Aug. 15, 2012
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FORT COLLINS, Colo.--Colorado State volleyball Head Coach Tom Hilbert and his staff held its annual media & booster dinner Wednesday evening in Moby Arena, addressing the upcoming season.
After opening up practice to the media and Hilbert’s group of NETwork boosters, the veteran coach talked with the crowd of about 80 about the upcoming season, the senior class, expectations, incoming freshmen and much more. A full transcript of the event can be found below.
CSU will begin the 2012 season in just over a week—on Aug. 24—vs. Virginia at Moby Arena. It’s been a busy week for the Rams, who on Monday were ranked No. 25 in the AVCA Division I Coaches Preseason Poll, and on Tuesday were predicted to win their fourth straight Mountain West title. Hilbert’s squad will be led by five returning starters, including four seniors who were each named to the preseason All-Mountain West team. The Rams concluded the 2011 season ranked No. 25 in the nation and won the conference’s regular-season and tournament championships. They advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the fifth year in a row. In all, CSU has played in 17 straight NCAA tourneys.
HEAD COACH Tom Hilbert
“We are now in Day 8 of our preseason training camp. We reported on the 7th, our first practice was on Aug. 8. As expected, our four seniors look very good. We are starting to have some emerging players move into some other roles who are starting to make some of those decisions, although I do believe we still have a lot of competition going on among our players for a couple of vacant positions. We have to be ready to play by next Friday, so that’s eight days away, I guess. Hopefully by then we’ll know who’s going to be playing where, or at least what our options are, and will have an idea of how we’ll run things system-wise. I think our team, this next year, will be similar to last year, in that our strength will probably be blocking. We are moving Dana Cranston to what we call our ‘O2’ position, which means she’s going to be playing in the three-hitter rotations, and then in the two-hitter rotations she’s generally in the back row, except for one of them. You should see her getting a lot more swings. She’s going to have more of a role like Katelyn Steffan had last year. The starting setter right now is most likely Deedra Foss. Our two starting middles are most likely going to be Megan Plourde and Brieon Paige; Megan in the M1 and Brieon in the M2. Other than that, I think a lot of things are wide open.”
(on his new coaching staff)
“I want to introduce my new coaching staff. They’re really all new. We have Matthew Botsford, who joined us in May right before we went to Europe, and he had just come back from Europe. He spent last year coaching in Sweden, so he didn’t go back over the Pond with us; he stayed here. But Matt coached last year in Sweden, and his team actually won the national championship in the Swedish volleyball top division. Prior to that he was an assistant coach at Notre Dame, and prior to his stint at Notre Dame, he was an assistant coach at the University of Miami. He played at a school called Tri-State, and he also worked at IUPUI. He’s had a good coaching career, and we’re happy to have him here.
And then my associate head coach, Brook Coulter, as many of you know and did some good press on her, she grew up here and went to Rocky Mountain High School. Then, she left and went to play at Cal, and then after Cal had about a seven-year career playing overseas in a number of countries and different capacities. Then, she came back and coached at the University of Denver, then moved on and coached at the University of Georgia for one season, and we were lucky enough to bring her back to her hometown. Our director of operations is a familiar face, and that’s Bri Frech, and we now want to call her Bri Olmstead. She’s there in the back with the newest member of her family: her daughter. She is our director of operations. This is a new, full-time position for us. We’re very excited to get that. We’ve needed that for a long time, and Bri is the perfect person for that job.”
(introducing the seniors)
“Our four seniors, we have Megan Plourde and Brieon Paige—both returning all-conference players—and Brieon spent a couple weeks this summer training and playing with the A2 national team and did a great job. And then Izzy Gaulia, was just picked for conference preseason libero of the year. Then there’s, Dana Cranston, who was just selected as preseason Mountain West Co-Player of the Year with Wyoming’s Jodi Purdy. Brieon and Meg were both selected as preseason all-conference, as well. That’s a great honor, now let’s go out and prove that you’re good enough to be that.”
(introducing the rest of the team)
“Our setter returning is Deedra Foss. We now have a new setter in the program, as well, Dri Culbert. Dri comes from Michigan.
Kelsey Snider has been playing a lot in our O1 position, as has Marlee Reynolds and Kaila Thomas. Those three kids are all battling for some open positions to play left and right, as well as Sam Peters, who is probably our third middle on this team, but is also battling to play a right-side position. Sam has made a lot of improvements not only as an attacker, but also she’s done a nice job as a ball handler, an attacker and defensive player. As attackers, we also have Anastassia Koutchouk, from Calais, France, and then Acacia Andrews, from Norman, Okla.
Then, we have our defensive specialist core; I already introduced Izzy, but we also have Michelle Smith, who is a junior this year, and then Kaitlind Bestgen, who is a freshman but she’s in her second year. Then, our newest member is Jaime Colaizzi, who is our newest member this year. Jaime’s from Windsor; she’s a Windsor Wizard.”
(on the team's health)
“Our roster size right now is at 15. We have the normal bumps and bruises you have at the beginning of the season; we have some sore shoulders, some sore knees—those kinds of things—but nothing is keeping anyone out of playing, and we feel really good about where we’re at health wise, too.”
(on the schedule)
“As I mentioned, we open our season vs. the University of Virginia right here next Friday night at 7 o’clock. That’ll be a good match; that team has a new coach, and they’ll have new energy in that program, and will be very good. That same tournament, we’ll also have the University of Denver, with my former assistant, Jesse Mahoney, as the new coach, and Rhode Island. It’s a good group to start out with. Then we go to Wichita State to play in a very difficult tournament. Wichita State is a great team, as you saw when they came here last year and they beat us at home, and then we also have Tennessee, who’s preseason ranked No. 15 in the country, and BYU, who is getting votes. BYU is a very good volleyball team right now; they didn’t lose very much after last year, and they are very big and physical.
Then we come back home for another tournament. We play Pepperdine, who I believe is preseason No. 11 in the country, New Mexico State—who is a very good team; they gave us everything we could handle last year at Las Cruces—and then Florida International.
Then, we have a few days off, and that next Saturday, we have a single match against this team called the UCLA Bruins, who won the national championship last year and is preseason No. 1 in the nation. That will be a fun match to watch.
When we head into our Mountain West conference season, we have two new teams in the Mountain West—Fresno State and the University of Nevada. It looks like Fresno State will be the better of those two teams. They return a player who statistically will lead our conference in kills per game if she maintains what she did last year. She looks like a very good player. Then, of the other teams that you guys are familiar with, I believe that Wyoming is the best team in the conference, besides us. They didn’t lose any players; they were very hot in the second half of conference last year, and they’ll be very competitive, and I expect our matches with them to be some of the best that we will play in the Mountain West. San Diego State is also getting a lot of respect; they return a lot of players, and are a very athletic program. We lost TCU out of the league, New Mexico lost a lot of players to graduation from last year to this year. Then you also have Boise State, Air Force and UNLV.”
(on how his approaching will change with two new coaches)
“No. 1, both of these guys were given a lot of autonomy, and Matt is given a lot of what Jesse was given last year. Brook has really taken over a lot of what we call first-contact coaching. She coaches players on serve-receive and basic ball handling, and really is handling a lot of practice; I’ll give her 30-45 minutes a day to really develop things that she wants to work on. When it comes to in-game coaching, I think you’re going to see similar things to what you saw last year. I’ll defer to these guys a lot on defense and blocking; I’ll be managing a lot of our sideout offense and handling Deedra.”
(on when he expects position battles to be decided)
“We’ll have some decisions made by Virginia, but I think that’s going to be an ongoing thing. There’s a lot of talent in that tier of players on this team. They’re all doing good things, and the other thing about them is that they all have strengths in different areas. One’s really good at blocking, one’s good at attacking the ball, one’s better as a back-row player . . . It’s just hard to say. It may be what we need for that particular match. I predict you will see a lot of those people playing in that opening-weekend tournament.”
(on why he decided to schedule such a challenging non-conference slate)
“Because I believe in them. I think we have a great group of players here. We have four great seniors, and really, the schedule is a reward to them. They want to play these teams. That’s why they came to Colorado State: to be nationally competitive and play some of the best teams in the country. If you ask them, they’re not going to shy away from it; they’re going to want to play some of these teams. I think it’s a testament to how good they are, and that I believed, when I made this schedule, that we needed this type of competition in non-conference. This is the kind of schedule that we could walk out of 6-4 and still feel real good about who we are and where we’re going. The object of that is to prepare us for A) the NCAA tournament, and B) the Mountain West conference championship.
Above all else, we want to win the Mountain West again, and the teams that we’re playing will help us prepare for that. It will also help us if we get some key wins; it’ll help us in terms of RPI and NCAA seeding. It also helps prepare us, because those are the types of teams you have to play when it comes down to NCAA tournament time.”
(on playing some of the nation’s best teams)
“Those players have seen it before. They’ve gotten to experience some big matches against some good opponents. I can promise you that Brieon, Meg, Dana and Izzy are not intimidated by anybody on our schedule. That confidence will help the players around them feel the same way. They’re good players, and they’ll have no problem preparing for those opponents, and they’ll have no problem physically matching up with those opponents.”
(on the incoming freshman class, and how the players fit in)
“It’s my belief right now that Acacia Andrews—and I’ve talked to her about this—will most likely redshirt. She has a lot to learn. She is a very, very physical kid with a great upside, but the likelihood of her beating out Meg or Brieon is slim at this point because she doesn’t have the experience. But she will be that kind of player. I think she’s a developmental player, and one to watch for in the future. The other three have a chance to play. Nastia is a very skilled player who’s played a lot of volleyball over a long period of time. She needs to get used to the physicality of our gym, she needs to get used to practice tempos and those types of things. Yesterday afternoon and today were the first times she has gotten to practice for us [she was cleared to play Tuesday after passing her English fluency test], so she has a lot to learn in terms of just getting acclimated to what we’re doing, but she’s a very good volleyball player with a great base of skills.
As for the other two, Dri is very well rounded. She can not only set, but she’s a good attacker, she’s a good serve-receiver and she does those things at a pretty high level with a great deal of confidence. We’re trying her in a lot of places, and I think she’ll probably contribute at some point this year. Jaime Colaizzi is very good, and you guys saw her out here practicing. This year, they’ve added three additional subs in Division I volleyball—we went from 12 to 15. That means players like Jaime have the chance to play. We can sub for a lot of our front-row players if we feel like we have better people to go in for them. She’s a very competent player who’s serve-receiving at a high level of defense, so she has a chance to get in the mix for us.”
(on the team’s foreign tour to Europe in May)
“We had a nice trip to Europe. We went to Italy for nine days and two days in Paris. We didn’t play a match in Paris; we originally were scheduled to play one and it got cancelled. We played three matches in southern Italy, and then a match up near Rome in a place called Trevi. Then we played two matches in Milan, and those were the two best matches; we played the Italian Junior National Team. Those were two very good matches played at a very high level. We won all six matches. We won against the Italian Junior National Team the first time a little easier than I expected. The second time we played them we lost the first two games and came back and beat them in five. It was a really good, competitive experience for our team, against a very talented team.
Overall, our team got together, bonded and had a good time. Italy’s a great country, and this is the first time I’ve done one of these tours where we’ve focused on mostly just one country; usually we go to three or four. I think the players had a good time.” [To read more about the team’s trip to Europe, please visit the team’s blog—which contains photos and daily posts written by the players—at www.csuramsvolleyball.blogspot.com]
(on new NCAA rule changes this year)
“The main one is the substitution rule, where they now allow 15 instead of 12. We’ll be more freely substituting in different situations, and that will mean you’ll see more people out on the court. Other than that, that was the only thing significant.”
(on if he’d like to see the Mountain West tournament return in the future)
“We will not have a Mountain West tournament this year. We had a conference call today about scheduling, and I’ll explain to you why that is. The teams in the Mountain West want a lot of weekends to play outside of conference, because they feel that’s important in the development of our conference and in helping teams getting chances to play in the NCAA tournament. San Diego State can play great competition right within two hours of them, so they want those weekends.
Right now, with nine teams in the conference, it takes you 10 weeks to complete that schedule if you play double round robin. With eight teams in the conference, it only takes you eight weeks, so when we were at eight teams, we played a Mountain West tournament, because we needed an extra weekend of competition. With nine, we don’t need that. Now, we’re back to where we were, with four weekends of non-conference, and then we play conference and the regular season conference ends on Thanksgiving weekend.
There was discussion today on our conference call, and there are a couple of coaches who want to revisit having a tournament anyway. When we meet again in February that will be put on the docket, and it remains to be seen whether we want to do it or not. I like it, in a way, because I liked getting good TV exposure. If it’s not televised, then I don’t think we should do it; I think we should play non-conference competition instead.”
(on if any matches will be televised this season)
“Only one up to this point. As you know, The Mtn. network no longer exists. There are three Mountain West volleyball matches on the CBS Sports Network; we’re involved in one of them, and that’s at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas on Sunday, Oct. 14. There’s the possibility of CET covering one of our home games—CET is Comcast Entertainment Television, and they broadcast it in the Denver market. It won’t be live, but they’re looking at some of our matches.
KCSU is still doing every home match and some road matches. [All home matches and select road matches can be heard locally on 90.5 FM, KCSU. Fans worldwide can stream the matches on www.KCSUFM.com. Additionally, fans looking to view home matches can do so through CSU’s All Access subscription (www.CSURams.com/AllAccess). Matches can be viewed over a computer screen, and are synced to the audio of the radio broadcast.]
(on engaging with the community to promote matches)
“Tomorrow night, our team will be at the Ram Welcome carnival, promoting our opening match vs. Virginia to all of the students. They’re doing a free student pizza night to the first 500 students at the Virginia match.
Friday night, we did this last year and we’re going to continue to do what we call Rams Volleyball Storms Old Town. We’re taking our entire team down to Old Town on Friday night; we’ve gotten permission to do this, and we’ll be going into 20 to 30 establishments in Old Town and passing out schedule cards and talking to people and getting people excited about the upcoming season. It’s a fun event; last year we did it and it was very, very well received.
It’s just a good way for us to tie into the community. That’s been a big part of what CSU volleyball has done over the past 15 years. We really have gotten out and done some grassroots development and cultivation of our fan base, because I think there is no other way to do it with a sport like volleyball. You’ve got to get people to meet the players and go, ‘You know, I don’t know much about volleyball, but I like that person and I’m going to go watch her play.’ Then, when they do, they see what an incredibly athletic and entertaining event it is. We do this type of stuff every year, and we’re going to continue to do it.”
FRESHMAN Kaitlind Bestgen
(on what she learned as a redshirt last year)
“I think I learned a lot about volleyball, obviously, playing with a bunch of players as good as the girls I’m around right now. But I also learned about how to be a good competitor and how to win and how to do the right things all the time. It’s not only volleyball-related. I learned a lot about how to be a good student and how to have good time-management skills.”
FRESHMAN Jaime Colaizzi
(on the possibility of playing as a freshman)
“It was actually [former associate head coach Jesse Mahoney] Jesse who told me. We were talking on the phone one day, and it was within the timeframe that they gave me to decide if I wanted to commit or not. Jesse told me I would see the court as a freshman so long as I see put in the necessary work. That was the first inclination that I got.”
(on feeling like the team is a family)
“The first time that I actually felt that was on my recruiting visit. I went to visit here and UNC within the same week, and there was a huge difference with the attitude of the girls. Immediately, all the girls at CSU made me feel so comfortable and at ease; that made my decision to come here, honestly. The girls are just amazing.”
(on learning from a veteran like senior libero Izzy Gaulia)
“Izzy pushes me to work that much harder and run that much faster to get the ball. I look to her for support and feedback, whatever she has to give me that might help me get better. She’s a great player to watch and learn from observation. I really enjoy working with her.”
SENIOR Dana Cranston
(on being named the preseason Mountain West Co-Player of the Year)
“It’s awesome; I’m so glad that we as a team got recognized. It speaks to the tradition we have here and how hard we work, but now we have to go do the work. I’m glad that the school got recognized, and that we got acknowledged for the work we’ve put in and the tradition we have and the conference championships we’ve won, but now we have to do it again.”
(on what helps them overcome the high expectations)
“It’s just getting everybody in the rotation, and every day not being satisfied with where we were yesterday. Keep pushing and getting better and holding ourselves to the standard we want to be held to, which is a high level of play. We go through practice and make standards for what we expect of each other, things like always working hard, never letting the ball hit the floor, stuff like that. It’s like going through those things every single day. [Associate head coach Brook Coulter] Brook always says, ‘You can either get better or you can get worse,’ so we need to always make sure we’re getting better.
(on being an all-around player, and what aspect of the game she enjoys most)
“There’s cool things to all of them. I think the thing I like most is serving, because it’s so much different than any other part of the game.”
(on who influenced her as a younger player)
“Tessa nelson was a big one. I was really homesick when I first got here, and she left a note on my locker, which I still have today. It said, ‘I know that you feel homesick. I felt like that, too, when I first got here. I promise you’ll get over it. We all love you and are here for you if you need anything.’
Katelin Batten is definitely another one of them. She completely changed my life and is still one of my best friends.”
(on the team being like a family)
“That’s totally what we are and why I chose to come here.”
FRESHMAN Adrianna Culbert
(on being intimidated coming into a program with such tradition)
“I was a little nervous, like any freshman would be, but I wouldn’t say it’s intimidating; I think it’s exciting. It’s a whole new atmosphere. The fact that we have such high standards and get to play all these amazing teams, and the fact that I get to be a part of it . . . Even if I don’t get to play, I get to be on the sidelines going crazy with my team. The girls are great. They’ve been so welcoming. It’s been great so far. I can’t wait to get going.”
(on getting reassurance from Coach Hilbert and receiving more early playing time than she expected)
“It’s really exciting. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m still a freshman, though. All of these girls have so much more experience, so I just have to come in and work hard every day, but so does everyone else. The excitement is fun.”
(on coming in as a setter, but spending time as a hitter during the first week)
“He [Head Coach Tom Hilbert] always said that over the long term I would focus on setting, but he never was really sure at the beginning. I was a little bit surprised that I’m hitting more than I thought I was going to be, but it’s great, and I love it.”
(on what has made her first week such a success)
“My teammates made me feel so welcome. Dana and Izzy, I stayed with them, and they were like, ‘If you need anything, if you need to go to the store . . . I know what it’s like to be a freshman and not have a car. We are always there for you guys.’ It was great to know it was like an instant family.”
SOPHOMORE Deedra Foss
(on the improvement she’s seen in the relationship between herself and the hitters since the beginning of last season)
“We’re so much more in tune. From the beginning of last year to now, we’ve improved so much more as a team, and for me with the hitters.”
(on reading defenses and the experience she learned last year)
“I definitely have my go-to hitters with the seniors—Meg and Brie and Dana are going to be really good. As for other teams, I’ve learned to read their blockers better, which helps me with who to set, and gives my hitters one-on-ones.”
SENIOR Brieon Paige
(on going to Europe with the team and playing with USA Volleyball’s A2 program over the summer)
“They were both once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Playing in Europe made me realize that it’s maybe something I want to do after college; it’s up in the air right now. Then, playing for A2, it was such a blessing playing with all of those girls. Competing with them and them pushing me and working with new coaches is great to bring back here to CSU.”
SENIOR Megan Plourde
(on Dana Cranston being named the conference’s preseason co-player of the year, an honor she earned in 2011)
“It’s a great honor to get, but you can’t really take that in and have it on your chest all season. Dana is a great leader and an amazing person, and I think she can handle it. She knows how to handle different situations, and she won’t be too stressed out by the pressure by it. She’s a good all-around player, and she’s going to do what she needs to do.”
(on being picked to win a fourth consecutive Mountain West title)
“Those are great honors to get, but it doesn’t really matter. You have to go out there and prove it. As long as we’re going out to the gym doing what we need to do every day, everything else will play out. Our chemistry is really good. We’re giving 100 percent every day.”
(on being a leader to the younger players)
“We just had a meeting the other day about giving back to the team. I’m going into my fifth year here, and I feel like I’ve learned so much and have gained a lot of knowledge from the older players through the years. I really want to pass that on to the younger players. We know that with four strong seniors leaving after this year, we need to develop the younger girls. We know that, and I think we make progress every day in that area.”