Nov. 14, 2009
By Katy Johnstone
Athletic Media Relations
PROVO, Utah – Colorado State was the last team standing in a five-set thriller Saturday night at the Smith Fieldhouse, shutting down BYU to clinch the Mountain West Conference title, 21-25, 25-23, 20-25, 27-25, 15-12.
Using long runs and rallies, the Rams (22-4, 14-1 MWC) came from behind to send the match to a fifth set, and held off the Cougars (13-13, 7-7) to claim the 11th conference title in program history.
CSU secured a first-place finish in a regular season or conference tournament for the 10th year in Tom Hilbert’s 13 seasons as head coach. The Rams were able to clinch the title after UNLV swept second-place TCU (23-6, 12-3) earlier in the day, giving CSU an insurmountable two-match lead in the MWC, which no longer holds a postseason tournament.
The Rams and Cougars went to five sets in a sixth straight Provo meeting, and for the first time since 2005, CSU returns home from its annual trip to the state with victories over both Utah, the preseason conference favorite, and BYU. CSU now steams toward its 15th consecutive NCAA tournament, extending the most successful run by any program in athletic department history.
Junior outside hitter Danielle Minch led the Rams with seven kills in the second set, and 21 kills in the match. Redshirt freshman Megan Plourde and redshirt sophomore Katelyn Steffan led the team with six blocks each. Junior outside hitter Jacque Davisson contributed 13 kills while Plourde had 12.
“There is a weight off our shoulders and we hung in there and got it done,” said Hilbert. “Jacque was our clutch player, but Dani (Minch) showed the number in tonight’s match and with those two we found a way to pull it out.”
BYU jumped on CSU early in the first set with a 9-4 lead, forcing the Rams to call at timeout. Colorado State struggled to get back into the set, trailing BYU 14-6 at one point, but then fought back to tie it at 16. But BYU pulled ahead again with a late lead and didn’t look back to win, 25-21.
Long rallies started the second set and the Rams went up 8-2, forcing BYU to take a timeout. The Cougars came back with a 4-1 run and the battle continued throughout the set with several close plays at the net. CSU surrendered a commanding lead in a set that featured eight ties and four lead changes. In the end, though, the Rams held the Cougars off for a 25-23 victory.
It was a tight back-and-fourth third set, but three Cougars service aces and a couple missed plays by the Rams gave BYU an 11-4 lead. CSU came back into the set with two timely kills and blocks, but it wasn’t enough to hold BYU off. The Cougars kept the lead to finish off the third set, 25-20, and take a 2-1 lead over the Rams.
The most dramatic set of the night was the fourth. The Cougars jumped on the Rams early, but CSU pulled ahead slightly, 12-8. The Cougars clawed their way back, with a victory in their sites, to tie it at 15, and it was point for point most of the rest of the way. CSU had three set points, and finally pushed the thrilling match to a fifth set, 27-25.
“We were not point-scoring very well and taking care of the ball, but we shook BYU up in the fourth set,” said Hilbert.
The Rams jumped out in Set 5 with a 5-1 lead. CSU continued to hold the lead, but the Cougars didn’t go away quietly and tied it at 8. But CSU used a timely kill from Minch, giving the Rams new life, and a big block from Steffan and senior middle blocker Tessa Nelson, to pull ahead and clinch their title.
The Rams now return home to wrap up conference play next week at Moby Arena against UNLV on Saturday at 1 p.m.