FORT COLLINS, Colo.—The Colorado State Rams’ quest for a fourth straight Mountain West title began Wednesday with the team’s first official practice of fall camp.
The players reported on Tuesday, hashing out several orders of business between meetings and photo shoots. Wednesday, however, the players hit the ground running with two workouts. During the morning session, Head Coach Tom Hilbert conditioned the girls with sprints and jump testing before conducting a traditional practice in the afternoon.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this day,” said Hilbert, CSU’s all-time winningest coach in any sport. “It’s been a long summer and offseason because of the new staff and new things in place. It’s been very, very busy, and I’m glad to start practicing and see what we can do with the CSU volleyball team.”
CSU will need to make the most of the practices, as the team begins competition in just over two weeks, a shorter timeframe than most years. The Rams kick off the season on Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. against Virginia. The match vs. the Cavaliers is part of the Rams Volleyball Rocky Mountain Invitational, one of two tournaments CSU will host in 2012.
In all, CSU will play 16 home matches, four more than last year. The Rams hold a 211-27 (.887) record at Moby Arena since 1997, Hilbert’s first year, and annually are in the top 15 nationally in attendance.
Big things are in store for the team, which finished the 2011 season ranked No. 25 in the final AVCA Coaches Top 25 poll after bowing out in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The team, which is led by a quartet of seniors (Dana Cranston, Izzy Gaulia, Paige and Megan Plourde) and returning starting setter Deedra Foss, is expected to compete for a fourth consecutive Mountain West championship and 18th straight NCAA tournament berth.
“I definitely feel like there’s more of a leadership role,” Paige said of being a senior. “The younger players are looking to me to lead the team, so I just want my play to show.”
“It was definitely really good,” Colaizzi said after her first practice. “It was tough, really competitive; it’s a great change coming from high school.”
Wednesday also was Hilbert’s first fall practice with his two new assistants—associate head coach Brook Coulter and assistant coach Matthew Botsford—who joined the staff during the offseason.
CSU will be back on the court again Thursday, and will continue preparation for a tough non-conference slate which features two top-10 teams (CSU will host defending national champion UCLA and Pepperdine) and six 2011 NCAA tournament teams.
“Overall, it was hot and cold,” Hilbert said. “We have new coaches in the gym, so they have new terminology and new things going on, so the players are having to learn some of that stuff. But we had some great effort today; really good performances, especially from our senior class. I’m excited from what we saw today, and we’re going to continue to grow on it.”