May 22, 2014
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The Colorado State volleyball team is eyeing a sixth consecutive Mountain West title in 2014. In order to prepare them for conference play, the Rams have beefed up their non-conference schedule, which begins Saturday, Aug. 30, at Moby Arena.
Altogether, the Rams will host 15 opponents on their home court, including 2013 NCAA runner-up Wisconsin.
“I’m really excited about how our schedule shaped up,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. “The marquee match of the year will be Wisconsin, but we have several other opponents who are very, very good teams. It’s a challenging schedule.”
In addition to the Badgers – No. 2 in the final AVCA Division I Top 25 Coaches Poll – CSU will play three teams which finished 2013 ranked, and seven which were ranked or received votes throughout the season.
Of the Rams’ 13 non-conference opponents, six competed in the NCAA tournament last fall and three were in the top 25 for RPI.
“I wanted to get more teams that were going to appear in the top 50 for RPI and opponents that were going to win a lot of games,” Hilbert said. “We ended up with a lot of those teams and very few easy matches.”
The 2014 season will kick off with the Rams Volleyball Classic over Labor Day weekend. Following football’s Rocky Mountain Showdown on Friday night, the volleyball team will play a double header Saturday and a single game Sunday.
“The first weekend of school is a great time to host an event,” Hilbert said. “That weekend is packed with excitement. It’s a great opportunity for the students on campus to be introduced to Rams volleyball, but also Rams athletics as a whole.”
The opening weekend (Aug. 30-31) consists of two teams which played in last year’s NCAA tournament – UC Santa Barbara and Marquette – in addition to the season opener against VCU.
“We’ll play three very good teams in two days,” Hilbert said.
In her first year as head coach at VCU, head coach Jody Rogers led the Rams to a 26-8 record and a second-place finish in the Atlantic 10 Conference. UCSB and Marquette each won their respective conference titles, both playing in the NCAA tournament.
UCSB – which CSU beat in an early-season tournament last September – finished in a three-way tie with Cal State Northridge and Hawai’i, earning the Big West’s automatic bid. Marquette went 26-6 and won the BIG EAST regular-season and tournament championships, and finished the year ranked No. 23. The Golden Eagles played in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year, but in 2014 will be under new head coach Ryan Theis. Marquette returns two players who earned AVCA All-America Honorable Mention accolades as freshmen.
For the second year in a row, CSU and Northern Colorado will host a joint tournament. After playing in Fort Collins in 2013, the Rams will travel to Greeley for a Wednesday night match against one of their in-state rivals (Sept. 3).
The Bears went 14-17 in 2013 after appearing in back-to-back postseasons in 2011 and 2012.
Two nights later, CSU will be back on its home court for matches against Florida A&M (Sept. 5) and national runner-up Wisconsin (Sept. 6).
The Badgers made a historic run in the NCAA tournament, advancing to the 2013 NCAA Final Four and knocking off No. 1 Texas before falling to Penn State in the championship match. Wisconsin returns the majority of its production, including a pair of AVCA All-Americans – one being last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, setter Lauren Carlini. In just his first year with the Badgers, head coach Kelly Sheffield was named National Coach of the Year by Volleyball Magazine.
“Our fans appreciate good volleyball, and by bringing in some of the best teams in the United States, it’s a great chance for us to showcase the sport of volleyball at Moby Arena,” Hilbert said. “My goal for the Wisconsin match is to have a great volleyball match in front of a lot of people, because that helps grow the game of volleyball. Of course we’re going to work hard to try and win that game, as well.”
Florida A&M went 15-8 in 2013, winning the MEAC regular-season title with a perfect 10-0 record. The Rattlers are coached by 2013 MEAC Coach of the Year Tony Trifonov.
Former associate head coach Jesse Mahoney and the Denver Pioneers will visit Moby Arena on Sept. 9. The Pioneers went 17-13 last season and were one win away from The Summit League title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
CSU has not lost a home match to a team from the state of Colorado since 1995, a stretch of 41 straight wins.
In the third week of the season, CSU will leave the Centennial State for the first time, traveling to Las Cruces, N.M., and El Paso, Texas, for matches against New Mexico State and BYU (Sept. 12), and UTEP (Sept. 13).
BYU is fresh off of back-to-back NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, and with the return of 2012 AVCA All-America selection Jennifer Hamson, the Cougars are expected to again return deep into the postseason. BYU went 24-7 last season, finishing the year ranked No. 13.
The Aggies won the 2013 WAC title for the second consecutive season in 2013, going 22-11 and playing in the NCAA tournament. UTEP went 14-16.
“Santa Barbara and New Mexico State won their leagues last year, Marquette won their league and was in the top 15 for RPI, BYU made it to the Sweet 16 . . . We have to stay in shape and play really well week after week after week,” Hilbert said.
Non-conference play wraps up the following weekend (Sept. 19-20), and will again see challenging competition.
The Rams will play a Pac-12 opponent in Arizona State, in addition to matches against Pepperdine and North Carolina Central.
The Sun Devils reached as high as No. 15 in the AVCA poll in 2013, finishing the year 19-14 and earning an at-large berth to the Big Dance for the second straight season. Pepperdine and North Carolina Central will both be under new coaching staffs. The Waves went 19-7 a year ago – falling to CSU in the Pepperdine Invitational – and narrowly missed the NCAA tournament after back-to-back appearances, including a trip to the 2011 Elite Eight. North Carolina Central went just 3-25 in 2013.
CSU’s 13 non-conference opponents went a combined 245-153 (.616) in 2013.
“There are no weekends off,” Hilbert said. “You have to be ready to go every weekend. Physically, emotionally and mentally, it’s going to be more difficult for our team than it was last year.”
Mountain West slate trimmed to 18 matches
After playing each conference team twice in 2013 – once at home and once on the road – in a decision by the head coaches, the Mountain West announced this off-season to cut its conference slate to 18 matches. With the two additional contests freed up, it allows for the Rams to schedule additional non-conference dates.
“I like the format,” Hilbert said. “It gives us an extra weekend, essentially, and allows for us to continue our rivalry games with DU and Northern Colorado.”
In 2014, the Rams will play Nevada on the road only and San José State at home only.
Mountain West play begins Sept. 25
Each year, the team’s primary goal is to win the Mountain West. The same rings true in 2014, as the Rams look to win a conference-record sixth straight title.
It’ll begin Sept. 25 in Logan, Utah, the site of one of last year’s most memorable matches. Trailing 2-0, the Rams rallied to win the final three sets over Utah State – including fighting off two match points – to extend the team’s winning streak to a program-record 21 straight matches to start the season. It was the first time since 2000 that the Rams had overcome a 2-0 deficit on the road.
CSU remains on the road for a tilt at Boise State (Sept. 27), before making its Mountain West home opener on Oct. 2 vs. UNLV. The Rams beat the Rebels on Nov. 29, 2013 during the team’s regular-season finale.
Two days later, CSU will get a rematch against San Diego State – the Rams’ lone regular-season loss in 2013, which snapped their 21-match home winning streak.
Hilbert believes that one of the toughest opponents, however, will be New Mexico. The Rams host the Lobos on Nov. 15, but prior to that, play in Albuquerque on Oct. 16.
“Our main goal is to win the Mountain West, and we have some big challenges,” Hilbert said. “New Mexico really stands out. They didn’t lose much from last year and have some really talented players. There are so many unknowns, though, and a mixture of teams could be right up there competing at the top.”
The Border War between CSU and Wyoming will take place on Oct. 7 (in Laramie), with the second installment being on Senior Night, Nov. 26 in Fort Collins.
- The 31 regular-season matches is the most CSU has played since 2003. That year, the Rams went 28-4 during the regular season en route to a 30-5 finish and a berth in the Sweet 16.
- CSU’s 13 non-conference opponents went a combined 245-153 (.616) in 2013.
- The Rams will likely be one of just a few teams to play two non-conference opponents in the past three seasons who competed in the NCAA national championship the year prior. The Rams hosted UCLA in 2012 (2011 national champions) and will host Wisconsin this fall (2013 NCAA runner-up).
- Of CSU’s 13 non-conference opponents, six played in the NCAA tournament last season, with three advancing at least one round. Those three teams – Wisconsin (9), Marquette (11) and BYU (25) – finished the year with top-25 RPI rankings. What’s more, four additional opponents ranked in the top 75 for RPI. The Rams finished the year at No. 23. They are one of eight teams to be ranked in the top 50 for RPI each season.
- Four opponents won their respective conference title in 2013 – UC Santa Barbara, Big West regular season; Florida A&M, MEAC regular season; Marquette, BIG EAST regular season and tournament; New Mexico State, WAC tournament.
- All-time, CSU is 368-180 (.672) against its 23 opponents this fall, holding winning records against all but four teams. The Rams have never faced Marquette or North Carolina Central.
Fans interested in purchasing season tickets can do so online. Single-match tickets and mini plans will go on sale later this spring.
CSU is coming off a record-breaking season, in which the Rams set multiple program marks, including 27 consecutive victories and a .933 winning percentage (28-2). CSU won its fifth consecutive Mountain West title, earned a trip to the NCAA tournament for the 19th straight season, was ranked as high as No. 9 nationally and finished seventh in the NCAA for average attendance.
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