Volleyball Match Notes: No. 12 CSU faces challenging road test

CSU will face second-place UNLV on Thursday, followed by a trip to MW preseason favorite San Diego State on Saturday.

CSU will face second-place UNLV on Thursday, followed by a trip to MW preseason favorite San Diego State on Saturday.

Oct. 15, 2013

CSU Match Notes #10 | UNLV Notes | San Diego State Notes
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Match 16: No. 12 Colorado State at UNLV
Thursday, Oct. 17 | 7 p.m. MT | Cox Pavilion

Match 17: No. 12 Colorado State at San Diego State
Saturday, Oct. 19 | 8 p.m. MT | Peterson Gym

SCOUTING UNLV
At 10-6 overall and 5-1 in conference play, the Rebels are second in the Mountain West and host the Rams in a battle for supremacy. UNLV won both of its matches on the road last week over Air Force and New Mexico, both in four sets. At home, the Rebels have been tough to beat, as they own a 5-2 record in front of their home crowd, including a win against preseason MW favorite San Diego State.

UNLV will provide CSU with a tough challenge as one of the most balanced teams in the country. The Rebels rank third in the MW in assists (12.57 per set) and kills (13.30), while ranking fourth in digs (15.18), fifth in opponent hitting percentage (.200) and sixth in blocks (2.22).

Senior outside hitter Sekola Falemaka has been the driving force behind UNLV’s success this season. Falemaka ranks fifth in the conference in kills per set and is third in points per set. While very effective as the team’s leading hitter, Falemaka has proven to not be a one-dimensional player. She also leads the conference in service aces per set, and ranks second on her team with just over three digs per set.

Setting the way for UNLV’s dynamic offense is senior Stephanie Thelen who ranks third in the Mountain West in assists. On defense, the Rebels are led by junior middle blocker Katlin Winters who averages 1.09 blocks per set, and junior libero Allison Davies, who is third in the Mountain West with 4.00 digs per set.

SERIES VS. THE REBELS
Colorado State has been dominant against UNLV in the series history. The Rams boast a 31-6 record overall against the Rebels, and are 12-5 playing in Las Vegas. Dating back to 2008, CSU has now won each of the previous 10 matches against UNLV, including four in a row on the road. While playing as a ranked team, the Rams are 14-3.

In her freshman campaign, right-side hitter Adrianna Culbert posted effective numbers in two matches against the Rebels. She averaged 2.17 kills and 2.50 digs per set, while also posting just under 1.00 blocks per set. In five career matches, junior setter Deedra Foss has helped guide the Rams to four wins, while posting 12.43 assists, 1.93 digs and 1.00 blocks per set. Recently, CSU has had a couple significant wins against UNLV, including the 2011 MW Championships finals match in Albuquerque, N.M., and last year in Las Vegas, when the Rams swept the Rebels in front of a national TV audience to earn their first road win of the season.

SCOUTING SAN DIEGO STATE
Picked as the preseason conference favorites, the Aztecs are 9-7 on the year with a 4-2 record in Mountain West play. San Diego State is 5-1 at home and has a three-match home winning streak entering the week. The Aztecs host Wyoming on Thursday.

As a team, San Diego State ranks second in the MW in assists (13.27 per set) and kills (14.08), trailing only CSU in the two categories. The Aztecs also rank fourth in the conference in hitting percentage (.218). On defense, San Diego State ranks second in digs (15.21), and fifth in blocks (2.24) and opponent hitting percentage (.200).  

The Aztecs are led by a pair of seniors who provide valuable leadership and experience for the team. Senior outside hitter Summer Nash leads the team with 3.65 kills per set and 4.20 points per set. Those numbers place her fourth and second in the conference, respectively.

San Diego State also gets key contributions from MW Preseason Player of the Year Johnna Fouch. A two-time All-MW selection, Fouch ranks sixth in the conference in assists, with 10.02, and is second on the team with 2.55 digs per set.

The Aztecs’ offense is also powered by junior outside hitter Michelle Waber. Waber ranks seventh in the MW with 3.25 kills per set to give San Diego State two dangerous threats on the outside. San Diego State joins CSU as the only two teams to have two players rank in the top 10 for kills in the MW.

On defense, senior libero Courtney Vaccarello leads the team with 3.73 digs per set, while sophomore middle blocker Kaja Sandberg leads the way with 1.09 blocks per set.

SERIES VS. THE AZTECS
Overall, CSU is 33-15 all-time against San Diego State and 15-9 when playing in San Diego. Under Head Coach Tom Hilbert, the Rams have been almost unstoppable. CSU is 30-2 against the Aztecs with Hilbert at the helm, but lost its most recent match at San Diego State. The loss is CSU’s most recent true road loss (spanning 10 consecutive wins) and its last conference loss. All-time, CSU is 22-1 against San Diego State when playing as a ranked team.

In four career matches against the Aztecs, junior setter Deedra Foss has matched up very well against conference Setter of the Year Johnna Fouch. Foss has averaged 11.00 assists, 2.07 digs, 0.86 kills and 0.57 blocks per set, with the Rams being victorious in three of the four matches. Fouch on the other hand has averaged 11.29 assists, 1.86 digs, 0.50 kills and 0.36 blocks per set. The Rams have out-hit the Aztecs, .284 to .203 during that time period.

STARTING HOT
With 15 straight wins, CSU is off to its best start in more than a decade, and third-best in program history. The program’s best-ever start came in 2001, when the squad won its first 20 contests before suffering its initial defeat, to No. 15 Utah on Nov. 3. That year, the Rams completed the season 29-4 and ranked No. 10 in the year’s final poll. If CSU can sweep its road trip this week, it will tie for the second-best start, with 17 straight victories.

FIFTEEN IN A ROW
Not only are the Rams off to their best start since 2001, but the team’s 15-match winning streak is the program’s longest since winning 17 straight from Sept. 1-Nov. 19, 1999. Two victories this week would tie for the fourth-longest winning streak in program annals.

Excluding the Rams’ NCAA tournament loss to No. 22 Purdue, they haven’t lost a regular-season contest since Oct. 25, 2012 (a 3-1 loss at San Diego State), a span of 23 consecutive wins.

MOVIN’ ON UP
With two home wins last week, CSU moved up one spot, to No. 12, in the latest AVCA’s Division I Coaches Top 25 poll. The national ranking is CSU’s highest since the Sept. 29, 2008 poll, in which the Rams were also ranked No. 12 after an 11-1 start to the season. The Rams jumped ahead of previously unbeaten North Carolina, which lost to then-unranked Duke, 3-0, at home.
 
After a 15-0 start to the season, the Rams have steadily climbed the poll each week, receiving votes the first three weeks before cracking the top 25 in mid-September. All-time, just 14 teams have been ranked more frequently than CSU, which has been voted into the top-25 poll 240 times in its history. CSU is 416-125 all-time as a ranked team, including 236-28 at Moby Arena.

ROAD WARRIORS
A win on Thursday will match history, and a victory on both Thursday and Saturday will break it.

Dating back to Oct. 27, 2012, a loss at San Diego State, the Rams have won 10 straight true road matches, one shy of the mark of 11, which was set in 2003.

It took the Rams six tries to get their first win away from Moby Arena in 2012, finally posting one at UNLV on Oct. 14, in front of a national TV audience. However, the Rams finished strong, winning their final five down the stretch, and have opened up 2013 with five true road wins in five tries — in addition to two neutral-court wins in Malibu, Calif., which are not included in the true road wins figure.

GETTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
Winners of four straight Mountain West championships, CSU began its conference-title defense on Sept. 18 by sweeping Wyoming in three tight sets. The Rams have won 17 consecutive conference home openers, dating back to 1997, Head Coach Tom Hilbert’s first at the helm of the Rams.

Currently the only unbeaten team in the conference, CSU has won its first six MW matches for the sixth time in 15 seasons in the league.

REMAINING UNDEFEATED
Entering the eighth week of the season, CSU is one of two Division I teams to have yet to lose a match, joining Missouri. While this is CSU’s third-best start to a season in terms of wins, it is the second-longest in terms of date on the calendar. The latest CSU has gone without losing a match was Nov. 3, in 2001.

FILLING UP THE GYM
Always known as one of the loudest gyms in the entire country, CSU’s Moby Arena currently ranks seventh nationally, averaging 3,147 fans per contest. The average would be the highest in program history if the season ended today. Currently, the program’s best attendance average came in 2001, when the Rams averaged 2,846 fans per match. In all, CSU has brought in an average of more than 2,000 fans eight years, including each of the last three seasons. CSU set a season high with 4,801 fans in its most-recent home match (vs. Boise State on Oct. 12), the 10th-largest attendance figure in program history.

AMONG THE BEST IN THE NATION
As one of the top teams in the country, CSU is also putting up some of the top numbers in the country. The Rams continue to move up in several team and individual categories in the latest NCAA statistical report, released Monday.
    
CSU is one of the most potent offenses in the country, ranking in the top 10 in both kills and hitting percentage. Additionally, CSU and Stanford are the only two teams in the country to rank in the top 15 in kills, assists, hitting percentage and blocks. Individually, Samantha Peters is one of 10 players nationally to rank in the top 50 in both hitting percentage and blocks.

EFFICIENT ATTACKING
CSU leads the Mountain West and ranks seventh in the nation with a .304 attack percentage. In the season opener vs. Baylor, CSU posted a hitting percentage of .529 (53-7-87), good for fifth-best in program history. Eight times in the young season CSU has hit above .300, including four matches in a row from Sept. 7-11. Three of the figures rank in the top-10 in the MW this season.

“We’re a young team, but we’re playing with more maturity as an attacking team than we did all last year, without a doubt,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said after CSU’s win vs. Missouri State on Sept. 11. “Our error percentage has been really, really good; if the season ended right now this might be the most clean we’ve played ever.”

In addition to high attacking numbers, CSU ranks second in the MW in opponent hitting percentage, holding its opponents to .158 hitting, including under .100 five times — including the team’s two most-recent matches. No team has hit better than .250 against CSU, and the Rams have been out-hit just once this season, but still earned the victory (at New Mexico on Sept. 28).

In 1987, CSU hit .800 (45-5-50) in a win at Loyola Marymount. The percentage is not only a CSU record, but still stands as an NCAA record 26 years later.

BALANCED ATTACK
Not only are the Rams attacking with great efficiency and at a high rate, but they’re also receiving a balanced attack. Despite ranking No. 7 nationally in kills, CSU’s leading attacker (Adrianna Culbert, 3.15 kills per set) ranks No. 8 in the Mountain West, and no players rank in the top 250 in the nation for kills. Five different Rams have led the team in kills in a match, with all five averaging at least 2.45 kills per set.

The biggest question entering fall camp — and even entering the season — was who would step up on the outside to replace last year’s top three attackers, who all graduated.

“I knew our middle attacking would be good this year,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said, “but we’re having some players step up and become some pretty solid attackers. We’re really playing as a team. There are no egos. Each night, someone steps up.”

END-GAME SUCCESS
Perhaps the biggest reason for the early success is the team’s ability to win close sets. Through 15 matches, 21 sets have been decided by five points or fewer; of those, the Rams have won 18. In sets decided by three points or fewer, CSU is 10-2, and in two-point sets the Rams are 7-2.

Against Utah State on Oct. 10, CSU trailed the entire match until 23-22. After the Aggies tied the score at 23-23, CSU took the next two points, closing the set on a 5-1 run to win a crucial third set. Against Wyoming on Sept. 18, the Rams and Cowgirls were tied at 20-20 each set — including 23-23 in Set 1 and 22-22 in Set 2. The Rams ended each set with a run, however, to win all three. In a five-set win at New Mexico on Sept. 28, CSU won sets by scores of 27-25 and 15-13.

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