Aug. 26, 2011
Weekly Match Notes
Athletic Media Relations
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.—The Colorado State women’s volleyball team has been labeled as young and inexperienced all preseason, needing to fill holes and answer uncertainties in order to succeed. On Friday night, though, the No. 15 Rams had it all together, sweeping the University of Arkansas in the season opener for both teams.
“We played very efficiently with a lot of maturity,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. “Being as young as we are, we didn’t miss a lot of serves, we didn’t make a lot of errors, we blocked the ball well.”
Opposite hitter Katelyn Steffan, who began her senior year at a new position, set the tone for the Rams with six kills in the opening set and 10 overall, including the match’s final point. She also was in on seven blocks.
“I was actually a lot more nervous than I have been in the past,” Steffan said. “I think playing in a position that I haven’t played in before was more nerve-wracking than exciting, but as soon as we got going, the nerves went away and excitement set in.”
In the opening set of the season, the Rams secured the match’s first three points, and 10 of the first 15, en route to a 25-22 victory. Arkansas did make it interesting midway through the set, though. With the Rams leading 16-11, the Razorbacks rattled off five consecutive points to tie the score at 16-16. The two teams exchanged points for the next several serves, as the match saw ties at 16, 17, 19 and 20, before the Rams took five of the final seven points to secure the opening set.
In Set 2, the Rams had no problem, cruising to a 25-16 victory, which included a stretch midway through that saw 14 of 18 points going in CSU’s favor. Included in that stretch was true freshman Kaila Thomas’ first collegiate kill. Thomas and Carlie Foust, the two true freshmen traveling with the Rams this weekend, saw action in all three and two sets, respectively.
The Rams faced a deficit for the first time in the third set, as Arkansas took the set’s first three points. The teams switched leads five times, and were tied a half dozen times, in the final set before CSU went on a run late to put the set and match away.
“We did a lot of good things,” Hilbert said. “Overall, for our first match, we looked better than I expected. I know we can be a good team, and I know we’ll be a very good blocking team. But when you come out and play against competition that you haven’t seen before, a lot of times you don’t block well the first match, and we did.”
The Rams, who opened the season on the road for the first time since 2007, led the Razorbacks in hitting (.208 to .027), assists (35 to 26), digs (48 to 37) and blocks (12.5 to 5).
Joining Steffan near the top of the kills category were Plourde (nine kills, .412 hitting percentage, six blocks), Brieon Paige (six kills, five blocks) and Kelsey Snider (five kills, three blocks).
“I thought we had great attacking out of our middle attackers,” Hilbert said. “Kate Steffan played well, and we did some good things.”
Jasmine Norton, a 2010 all-SEC member, was held to .080 hitting, and just six kills in 25 attempts.
“We definitely were prepared for her,” said Steffan, who recorded blocks on several of Norton’s attacks. “We knew she was their go-to player, so we tried to take her out of her game. We let her get some back-row kills on us in the first game, but that second game, we were aware of that and knew we had to be low and tight on her.”
The Rams will continue their busy weekend with two matches Saturday, facing Middle Tennessee State, an NCAA tournament team the past two seasons, at noon MT, and McNeese State at 4 p.m.
“I think, this team, being as young and inexperienced as we are, needed to get a win under our belt, not just going through practice,” Steffan said. “Getting the first win and playing as well as we did, it’s nice to do, especially knowing that we’re only going to get better.”
Success over Arkansas: With the sweep, the Rams now lead the all-time series vs. Arkansas 4-1, including winning 12 consecutive sets during that span after dropping the first three. The Rams swept a match 18 times last season.
Starting rotation: There was plenty of talk heading into the season about who would be where on the court. Hilbert used the same starting rotation each set Friday night, with Izzy Gaulia playing libero, Dana Cranston, Kelsey Snider and Steffan attacking, Paige and Plourde as middle blockers and Deedra Foss as the setter.
Starting off strong: The Rams have now won their opening match for the second straight year, which, given the team’s success over the past two decades, shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, the team has struggled out of the gate in the past, losing six of their eight season openers between 2003 and 2009.
Filling the seats: The announced crowd of 1,407 included a section of students that Arkansas school officials said via its in-game blog was the largest in at least three years.
Wrapping up the tourney: Barnhill Arena will be a busy place Saturday, with a total of four matches being played. Host Arkansas will take on McNeese State at 10 a.m. MT, before the nightcap against Middle Tennessee State at 6 p.m.