ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.--Already witnessing one major upset earlier in the day--when No. 7 UNLV swept regular-season runner-up San Diego State--the Rams weren't going to let the same thing happen to them, as Colorado State swept Air Force (25-16, 25-12, 25-10) Friday evening in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Mountain West Volleyball Championship.
CSU (20-5, 12-2 MW) gave up the match's first point but did not trail again, as the Rams hit .405 on the night, led by senior Katelyn Steffan, the 2011 Mountain West Volleyball Player of the Year. Steffan had a match-high 11 kills and four blocks, and the Rams as a team had 10 service aces, second-most on the season.
"We were very efficient the entire match," said Head Coach Tom Hilbert, the 2011 Mountain West Coach of the Year. "We kept errors down and hit smart. Even though the point gaps were wide, our team played with great efficiency and maturity. We played very relaxed and composed."
CSU turned a 2-2 tie into a 6-2 lead in the opening minutes of the match, and cruised from there. Air Force cut the deficit to 19-15 late in Set 1, but the Rams finished with six of the next seven points--including two of the team's 10 service aces--to take the 1-0 match lead. CSU hit .423 in the set, led by junior Megan Plourde and Steffan, who each tallied four kills.
Clinging to an early 4-3 lead in the second set, the Rams took the next six points--and 12 of next 17--to distance themselves, winning convincingly, 25-12. In the set, redshirt freshman Marlee Reynolds, who had played in just seven matches this season, played a significant amount of time and recorded a career-high three kills.
"We played with good composure, we played smart," Hilbert said. "We took advantage of things we needed to take advantage of. I feel like we started off not very aggressive serving in the first set, and as soon as we turned that on, it changed the entire match."
The Rams didn't lose any momentum during the intermission, scoring a season-most 10 straight points to open the third set. With Dana Cranston behind the line serving, CSU recorded two aces, four kills and three blocks before allowing a point. The Rams hit .455 in the set, winning 25-10.
"Dana had that 10-point run and that gave us a lot of momentum in that last set," Plourde said. "We played really well and focused on the fundamental things. We wanted to serve tough and pass well, so we had a lot of different options. I think we did that well tonight."
The Rams totaled 40 kills and just 10 errors in the match, compared to Air Force's .000 hitting. CSU had five players with five or more kills, and setter Deedra Foss recorded 37 assists. Led by Steffan and Brieon Paige's four, CSU outblocked Air Force 9-2.
With the win, CSU improves to 10-0 in the tournament's quarterfinals round. The Rams will play No. 4 Wyoming in the semifinals, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. MT. The match will again be broadcast on The Mtn. (DirecTV: channel 616; Comcast: 411, 948).
"We just need to stay focused and keep our energy up," Plourde said.
Also in the tournament: No. 7 UNLV upset No. 2 San Diego State 3-0 (25-20, 29-27, 25-23), while No. 3 TCU handled No. 6 Boise State 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 27-25). The two teams will meet in the semifinals Saturday at 5 p.m. MT. On CSU's side of the bracket, No. 4 Wyoming defeated host New Mexico 3-1 (25-23, 26-24, 20-25, 25-21).
Milestone win: The victory is CSU's 750th as a program. It also is the Rams' 20th of 2011, marking the 17th consecutive season the team has reached the 20-win milestone. The Rams have now beaten the Falcons 36 straight times dating back to the second all-time meeting, in 1982.