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Volleyball prospectus: Rams enter summer after strong spring season

The Colorado State volleyball team looks to do something this fall never accomplished in the program's rich history: win a sixth straight conference championship. The team will report for fall camp Aug. 8

June 12, 2014

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After surprised success in 2013, the Rams are primed to make another run through the Mountain West and into the NCAA tournament. CSU will return five of its six starters, in addition to libero Jaime Colaizzi. The Rams will also bring back to the court a handful of key reserves and an incoming recruiting class which includes five talented players.

In total, the Rams’ top three attackers will be back in uniform this fall, in addition to the team’s starting setter, libero, top five back-row defensive players and top six servers.

  • Acacia Andrews – Appeared in 27 sets, recording 39 kills and 16 blocks… In her first collegiate start (at Denver, 9/10), she posted 10 kills on .500 hitting (10-2-16), in addition to a team-most six blocks… In matches where she appeared in at least three sets, she averaged 2.60 kills per set on .488 hitting (26-6-41), plus 1.10 blocks.
  • Kaitlind Bestgen – Saw action in 80 sets (23 matches), ranking second on the team for service aces (22, 0.28 per set) and fifth for digs (1.64 per set)… Her 0.28 aces-per-set average was tied for eighth in the Mountain West… Earned seven starts, transforming from purely a server in 2012 to a defensive player, as well… On two occasions (vs. Virginia, 9/6 and at Air Force, 9/26), she had four service aces during a 7-0 CSU run… She finished the match vs. Virginia with a career-most five aces, just the third time since 2009 that a CSU player has accomplished that feat… Had a career-most 16 digs at UNLV (10/17).
  • Jaliyah Bolden – Redshirted during the 2013 season… In high school, she helped her team to the Texas state quarterfinals as a senior… Was named her team’s top offensive player as a sophomore.
  • Jaime Colaizzi – Recorded 445 digs (fourth-most in CSU single-season history) and 4.08 digs per set (fifth) in 2013… Also added 10 service aces… Helped CSU to one of its best-ever serve-receive percentages… Had eight 20-plus dig performances, including 23 vs. Air Force (11/15), the fifth-most in a three-set match in CSU annals… Had a career-most 25 digs at Utah State (11/2), helping the Rams overcome an 0-2 deficit… Posted double digits in digs 26 times, including 15 matches in a row between Sept. 3 and Oct. 19.
  • Adrianna Culbert – Earned All-Mountain West and AVCA All-America Honorable Mention honors… Was twice named the MW Women’s Volleyball Player of the Week… The first honor came after she helped CSU to a four-set win at Denver (9/10) with 23 kills on .512 hitting… The 23 kills were the most by a CSU player since 2011, and tied for third-most in the MW in 2013… As a six-rotation player, she averaged 2.53 kills per set (third on the team), 0.72 assists (second), 0.19 service aces (fourth), 2.78 digs (second) and 0.51 blocks (eighth)… Recorded double digits in kills 14 times and digs on 17 occasions… Had eight double-doubles… Was the only player in the conference to rank in the top 20 for hitting percentage (.305, 13th), service aces (17th) and digs (17th).
  • Cassidy Denny – Earned her way onto the court during the second week of the season and became a rock defensively, starting 17 matches… Averaged 2.02 digs and 0.22 service aces per set, which both ranked third on the team… Ranked 13th in the Mountain West for service aces per set, including eighth for conference matches (0.26)… Tallied double digits for digs six times, including the season’s final three matches… Had career highs in digs with 15 at UNLV (10/17) and Utah State (11/2)… On three occasions, she recorded three or more aces in a match, including four at New Mexico (9/28).
  • Deedra Foss – Was named the Mountain West Setter of the Year after leading the league and ranking eighth nationally with 11.76 assists per set… Despite losing more than 70 percent of its offensive production from the year before, she helped pace an offense that ranked sixth in the nation for hitting percentage (.298)… Named AVCA All-America Honorable Mention… Twice was named the MW Women’s Volleyball Player of the Week… Earned Pepperdine Invitational MVP honors after helping CSU to a tournament victory in Malibu, Calif. (9/6-7)… In a come-from-behind win at Utah State (11/2), she had 53 assists and 16 digs, in addition to four kills and five blocks… Recorded five service aces in a three-set win over Air Force (11/15), including four during a 9-0 CSU run… Led the team and tied for sixth in the MW with 0.29 service aces per set… Finished the season with eight double-doubles.
  • Marlee Reynolds – Led the team with 3.06 kills per set, totaling 333 kills on the year… Averaged 0.72 blocks per set (fourth on the team) and 3.45 total points (first)… Set a career high with 19 kills in a win at Pepperdine (9/7), securing the Rams’ tournament championship… At San Diego State (10/19), she totaled 18 kills and a career-most seven blocks and 21.5 points… Earned CSU’s Coaches’ Award, which is given by the coaches to the player who showed the most improvement.
  • Kelsey Snider – Earned All-Mountain West honors… Ranked third on the team for kills (2.60 per set) and second for blocks (1.04)… Hit at a .365 clip, second-highest on the team for players with at least 50 kills and 11th in CSU single-season history… Ranked fifth and 10th in the MW for hitting percentage and blocks per set, respectively… Recorded 13 or more kills 14 times, including a career-high 18 on .341 hitting at New Mexico (9/28)… In a five-set win at Utah State (11/2), she nearly recorded her first double-double with 14 kills and a career-high nine blocks… Totaled 16 kills on a personal-best .762 hitting in CSU’s NCAA tournament match vs. Cal State Northridge (12/5), recording kills on her first 12 swings… Added serving to her game in 2013, which she learned while playing in China over the summer with the BIP/USA Volleyball Global Challenge team… Recorded 11 aces on the season.

In addition to CSU’s nine returning players, Hilbert and his staff signed three freshmen, in addition to adding two transfers. All five will join the Rams’ roster this fall.

“I’m really excited about this year’s recruiting class,” Hilbert said. “I think we are bringing in a good amount of talent, and are addressing some of the holes that we needed to fill. I expect to see some of these players on the court playing a key role for us in the fall.”

  • Sanja Cizmic – Hails from Split, Croatia… Earned all-conference honors, helping her high school team to a league title… Plays club volleyball for OK PORE, where her team won the 2013-14 HRV National Cup and will compete in the 2014 European Cup… Previously played for ZOK Split 1700, helping her club to the 2012 CEV Volleyball Challenge Cup and 2012 CEV Junior Volleyball European Championship… Selected to play in the 2013 Junior Volleyball World Championship with the Croatian Junior National Team.
  • Grace Gordon – Native of Denver, Colo. … Spent two seasons at UC-Colorado Springs, starting 25 matches as a sophomore in 2013… Averaged 9.57 assists per set and ranked third on the team with 2.39 digs… Is a 2012 graduate of Grandview High School, where she earned a state runner-up finish in 2011.
  • Jasmine Hanna – A native of Queen Creek, Ariz., she was named a 2013-14 Under Armour Honorable Mention All-American, one of 100 ranked athletes in the nation... Selected to the Arizona all-state team three times, including the first team in 2012 and 2013… Was the 2010 Desert Sky Freshman Player of the Year… Earned five MaxPreps/AVCA Arizona Player of the Week honors… Holds her high school’s career kills and kills-per-match records… Twice was named her team’s MVP… Four-year letterwinner and two-time captain.
  • Alexandra Poletto – Earned silver medals with Leaside Volleyball Club at the U17 Ontario Provincials and Canadian Nationals… Named an U17 Ontario Provincial and Canadian National all-star… Known for her outdoor game, earning a gold medal at the U21 Canadian Beach Nationals in 2012-13… Member of the U24 Beach Provincial Team in Ontario, and is training to qualify for the U19 Beach Volleyball World Championships… Was the youngest member of the Team Ontario U18 team in 2011-12, and was a starter on the Team Ontario U19 National team Challenge Cup… At the 2012 Ontario Summer Games, she and her beach partner earned a gold medal.
  • Crystal Young – Earned a NJCAA national championship in 2013, helping Blinn College to a 39-3 overall record… Earned All-America honors by the NJCAA (first team) and AVCA (second team)… Was her conference’s setter of the year after setting a single-season school record with 1,546 assists (10.96 per set)… Raised in Clear Lake, Texas.

Joining the student-athletes is newly hired assistant coach Luke Murray. The Washington, Pa., native spent the past two seasons as an assistant at East Tennessee State. The Buccaneers won conference titles both seasons, going 45-22. In 2013, Murray helped ETSU’s defense rank 19th nationally for blocks per set.

“Luke is somebody who is mature beyond his experience in college coaching,” Hilbert said. “I view the hiring of him the same way I recruit. I think he’s somebody who has great potential. He has the desire to excel in this field, and from all accounts from the people I’ve talked to, he’s an extremely hard worker.”

The former setter helped Penn State to a national title in 2008, being named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team. As a senior that year, Murray was also tabbed as an AVCA second-team All-America selection and the AVCA/Sports Imports National Player of the Week on March 27, 2008.

In order to prepare the Rams for what they’re hoping is a sixth straight conference title, Head Coach Tom Hilbert and the Rams have beefed up their non-conference schedule, which includes 2013 national runner-up Wisconsin.

“I’m really excited about how our schedule shaped up,” 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.”

Regarding Wisconsin, however, Hilbert noted it will be a special match:

“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.”

For the second time in three seasons, CSU will host a team which played in the prior year’s national championship. In 2012, CSU hosted the defending champion UCLA Bruins.

  • Six of CSU’s 13 non-conference opponents played in last year’s NCAA tournament, with three advancing at least one round and two competing in the Sweet 16 or further.
  • Four teams won their conference championship in 2013: UC Santa Barbara (Big West regular season), Florida A&M (MEAC regular season), Marquette (BIG EAST regular season and tournament) and New Mexico State (WAC tournament).
  • Three teams finished 2013 in the top 25 in the RPI, and seven ranked in the top 75.
  • Three opponents finished 2013 ranked in the final AVCA top-25 poll, and seven were ranked or received votes throughout the season.
  • CSU will play 31 matches overall, the most 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.
  • The Rams will continue its regional rivalry matches at Northern Colorado and at home vs. Jesse Mahoney’s Denver Pioneers.
  • CSU will play an 18-match Mountain West slate, which closes with the Border War against Wyoming. With the slimmed down schedule, CSU will play San José State at home only and will only face Nevada on the road.

While the Rams expect to return the majority of last year’s production, they did graduate three seniors, and will see the departure of two others.

  • Cayla Broadwater – Spent one season with the Rams, appearing in 10 matches… Her biggest impact came in the third set against Fresno State (10/24)… Trailing 19-11, CSU subbed Broadwater in and went on a 9-0 run behind three blocks from the senior… The Rams won the set, 25-23, to sweep the Bulldogs… She finished the season with one kill and three blocks.
  • Michelle Lawrence – Chose to leave the team after one season to move back closer to her home in Walnut Creek, Calif. … Ranked second on the squad and 15th in the Mountain West with 2.89 kills per set… Ranked third in CSU freshman history with a .280 hitting percentage and fifth for kills per set… Tallied 16 kills on .519 efficiency vs. Northern Colorado (9/3), the most kills be a CSU true freshman since 2002… Followed that performance up with 19 kills in a win at Wyoming (11/5) and 18 vs. Cal State Northridge in the NCAA tournament (12/5)… Had 14 double-figure kill matches, leading the team five times… Named to the Pepperdine Invitational all-tournament team (9/6-7).
  • Samantha Peters – In her first season starting, became the Mountain West Women’s Volleyball Player of the Year… Earned AVCA All-America Honorable Mention status… Led the MW in hitting (.402) and ranked second in blocking (1.42 per set)… Was one of two players nationally to rank in the top 25 for both categories… Her hitting percentage ranks fifth in CSU single-season history… Recorded at least eight kills 21 times… Led the team in blocks on 20 occasions… Had a career-high 14 kills at UNLV (10/17), in addition to 11 blocks, which was then a personal best… Named to the Pepperdine Invitational all-tournament team (9/6-7).
  • Michelle Smith – Finished her career as one of two players in CSU history to win five regular-season conference championships… Earned four starts… Averaged 1.52 digs per set, including a season-best eight on two occasions… Added six service aces.
  • Kaila Thomas – Disqualified from competition due to multiple injuries… Received a permanent medical redshirt… Appeared in 42 sets in 2013, averaging 1.24 kills and 0.24 blocks… Recorded a career-most 11 kills during a spot start at San Diego State (10/19)… Had eight kills on .615 hitting (8-0-13) vs. Missouri State (9/11).

Following six weeks of spring training, which included four practices a week and several days in the weight room, the Rams will next convene Friday, Aug. 8, for the start of fall camp.

Hilbert believes that his team got a lot out of the spring season, which featured four tournaments.

“We had a challenging spring season, but I saw a lot of positives from several players,” Hilbert said. “There were players who stepped up on the court and others from a leadership standpoint. My hope is that they’ll continue training and improving over the summer so we’re ready to go come August.”

In total, CSU competed in Colby, Kan., Laramie, Wyo., and Fort Collins. The NCAA permits teams to travel up to 500 miles via ground transportation during spring competition. The Rams earned victories over Casper, Denver, Northwest College, Sheridan College, Wichita State and Wyoming. They also earned a split in a pair of matches against nationally ranked BYU at Moby Arena.

The team concluded the spring season with a week of sand training, capped with a sand event against the CSU men’s club volleyball team.

“Playing beach is a great way to improve and see the game in a new way,” Hilbert said. “By playing doubles, it allows them to continue playing and getting better over the summer.”

Nearly all players will stay in Fort Collins over the summer for summer school and voluntary workouts.

Also over the summer, a couple of Rams will compete internationally.

Seniors Marlee Reynolds and Kelsey Snider were selected to be part of the inaugural Mountain West Global Challenge All-Star Volleyball Team. The duo will be joined by 10 other players for a 12-day excursion throughout Europe.

The team will conduct four days of training and competition in Venice, Italy, before beginning the 2014 European Global Challenge, July 13-18 in Pula, Croatia. There, the all-star team will face junior national teams from Slovenia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Russia, as well as club teams from Italy, Serbia, Austria and Romania.

In June, associate head coach Brook Coulter will serve as assistant coach for the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team. The GYNT is the highest level of programming for players born in 1998 or 1999. The squad will represent the United States at the biennial NORCECA Women’s U18 Continental Championship June 22-30 in Costa Rica. Team USA has won the tournament six consecutive editions, and seven of eight times in the event’s history.

Mountain West Setter of the Year Deedra Foss ranks sixth in CSU history for career assists, and is on pace to move up to third by the end of her career. Foss, who set a personal best for assists in a season in 2013 (1,282), is one of the most versatile setters in the country.

Not only did she rank eighth nationally for assists per set in 2013 (11.76), but she also led all Pacific North Region setters for blocks (0.82) and hitting percentage (.409), and ranked third for service aces (0.29) and kills (0.81). She distributed the ball to a balanced offensive attack in 2013, which ranked sixth nationally for hitting percentage despite losing more than 70 percent of its offensive production from the prior season.

The 2011 MW Newcomer of the Year and 2012 All-MW selection is one of two setters in program history (Ashley Fornstrom) to average at least 10.60 assists, 2.00 digs and 0.80 blocks per set three times.

Expected to be a rebuilding year, CSU had one of the most prolific seasons in the program’s rich history. The Rams won their first 27 matches en route to a record-breaking .933 winning percentage. In the midst of it all, CSU won its fifth consecutive Mountain West title – going 19-1 in conference play – and qualified for the NCAA tournament for a 19th consecutive season. The Rams were ranked for most the season, peaking at No. 9.

2013 notables:

  • Program-record .933 winning percentage (28-2).
  • 27 consecutive wins (program, Mountain West records; second-longest active streak in the NCAA at the time).
  • Fifth consecutive Mountain West championship.
  • 19th straight trip to the NCAA tournament, which ranks seventh nationally. All-time, CSU has been to the tournament 25 times, which ranks 11th in women’s volleyball history.
  • Average attendance of 3,283 (program record, ranked seventh in the NCAA in 2013).
  • 5 weeks ranked in the top 10 of the AVCA top-25 poll, peaking at No. 9, CSU’s highest national ranking since 2004.
  • Head Coach Tom Hilbert, the AVCA Pacific North Region Coach of the Year, earned career victory No. 600 on Nov. 9, becoming one of 10 coaches in Division I women’s volleyball history to win at least 600 matches and hold a career winning percentage above .770. Hilbert is 605-178 in 25 seasons as a head coach (.773).
  • 17 consecutive true road wins since Oct. 27, 2012 (program record).
  • 21 straight home wins from Sept. 27, 2012 through Nov. 15, 2013 (tied for second in CSU history; third-longest active streak in the NCAA at the time).
  • 35 straight regular-season victories between Oct. 27, 2012 and Nov. 23, 2013 (program record; longest active streak in the NCAA at the time).
  • 25 Mountain West victories in a row from Oct. 27, 2012 through Nov. 23, 2013.
  • In addition to the school’s best winning percentage, CSU’s 28 victories were tied for fifth, and its two losses were a program record.
  • As a team, CSU ranked third in the nation for winning percentage, sixth for hitting (.299), 13th for blocks (2.84 per set), 14th for kills (14.44 per set) and 26th for assists (13.20). The Rams and Stanford Cardinal were the only two teams to rank in the top 15 for hitting, blocking and kills.

With two weeks remaining in the season, the Rams had already locked up the conference title behind a 16-0 start. CSU would win its next two games and three of its final four to finish its Mountain West slate 19-1.

The conference championship was CSU’s 14th regular-season title in program history, and fifth straight. On just one other occasion – 2000-04 – have the Rams won five consecutive regular-season championships. CSU and Hawai’i are the only two teams nationally to win their respective conference titles in each of the past five seasons.

Since the formation of the MW in 1999, CSU is 198-32, winning 11 of 15 regular-season trophies and five of nine tournament titles.

“Our main focus once again will be to win the Mountain West,” Hilbert said. “That’s our only guaranteed way into the NCAA tournament, so we need to be focused emotionally and physically to get that done. New Mexico really stands out to me; 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.”

Three Rams were recognized as some of the top volleyball players in the country this past December, and two of them return to the court in 2014. Adrianna Culbert, Deedra Foss and Samantha Peters were named All-America Honorable Mention by the AVCA, marking the seventh straight season that multiple Rams have been honored by the AVCA All-America committee. The three total selections tied a program best, and CSU was one of 18 schools to have three or more players represented among the 144 total honored.

Additionally, five Rams were recognized by the Mountain West, including Peters, the conference player of the year. A CSU player has earned the league’s top honor in each of the past five seasons, and 10 times in the league’s 15-year history.

Joining Peters was Foss (setter of the year), and Culbert and Kelsey Snider (All-Mountain West team). What’s more, Head Coach Tom Hilbert earned his ninth MW Coach of the Year honor. Taking it up a notch, he was also named the AVCA Pacific North Region Coach of the Year, his second regional honor in the past three seasons and the fifth of his career. He was a finalist for the National Coach of the Year and was honored at the AVCA All-America Banquet/Final Four in Seattle, Wash.

Colorado State offers fans and media members several ways to follow the CSU volleyball team. Like the team on Facebook, and follow the team on Twitter and Instagram for daily photos, videos and breaking news. Fans can also get insight from Coach Hilbert by following him on Twitter. Those tweeting are encouraged to use the hashtag #PointRams, in addition to #CSURams.



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