Volleyball seniors on verge of fourth title

CSU's four seniors: Izzy Gaulia, Dana Cranston, Megan Plourde and Brieon Paige.

CSU's four seniors: Izzy Gaulia, Dana Cranston, Megan Plourde and Brieon Paige.

Nov. 23, 2012

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It’s not every year a program has a senior class like Colorado State University Volleyball’s Class of 2012. Some groups are small, while others are large. Most classes have star players mixed with reserves. In fact, there have even been years where there was no senior class.

The Class of 2012, however, is different. It includes four star players who have excelled on the court, but more importantly, have excelled away from it.

“Between those four players—Dana Cranston, Izzy Gaulia, Brieon Paige and Megan Plourde—there’s 15 years of starting experience, and that’s a lot of experience,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. “But it’s so much more than what they bring to the court statistically. Their leadership and their presence, and everyone’s comfort level around them is what makes this group special. That’s why they are such a big deal.”

Volleyball at CSU knows a thing or two about success. In fact, it’s the most successful program at the University, winning 17 conference championships, earning 23 total NCAA tournament appearances and being victorious in 67 percent of its all-time matches. Between wins, championships, attendance records and All-Americans, CSU is among the best in its craft.

With expectations like that, however, this senior class has had some big shoes to fill. Many would say they have overachieved.

When it’s all said and done, this group will have won more than 95 matches. They’ve earned three NCAA tournament berths, and are in the process of earning a fourth. They’ve also helped raise three conference championship banners, and with a win Friday against New Mexico, they will be part of a select group to win a title in all four years—currently only three players have done so.

“If you asked me what I thought my college career would be like I never would have guessed this,” Gaulia said. “The last four years have been incredible.”

The senior class has been part of some unforgettable moments—from beating Washington to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 as freshmen to the come-from-behind upset against Nebraska in front of 6,750 fans a year ago, the list goes on.

They’ve received notable achievements on the court—all have been selected as All-Mountain West or Mountain West Championship selections, and one has earned All-America status—but they all agreed they owe it to each other.

“We play really well, and that’s because we work really well and we’re great friends,” Paige said. “We’re always trying to help each other. This team is a family.”

More important than what they were able to accomplish on the court, though, the senior class hopes to have made an impact once they retire their volleyball jerseys.

“I think we all have a goal to not only continue the incredible tradition that’s been built at CSU,” Cranston said, “but to also continue laying the groundwork to the younger players so that the tradition and success continues.”

According to their coach, they’ve already done that and more.

“They have been so solid for so many years, and groups like this don’t come around often,” Hilbert said. “There are all-conference awards and an All-America selection, but they don’t have superstar mentalities. They’re all solid, team players who made big contributions and want to make the program better once they leave. This group is really special.”


#1 Izzy Gaulia
Gaulia is a four –year starter, and has been the team’s libero each of the past two seasons. Earlier this year she became the 10th Ram to earn 1,000 career digs, and will likely finish her career in the top three. She already holds the school’s single-season (508 in 2011) and single-match (39 vs. Oregon on Dec. 1, 2011) digs records, and last year, after winning the Mountain West Championship, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Libero. Gaulia was born in Brazil and grew up in Glendale, Ariz. Off the court, she is a three-time Mountain West Scholar-Athlete.

“I’ve had a really great four years here. I’ve had a lot of obstacles in my way, but I’ve learned a lot from my coaches, both past and current. I’ve grown so much as a person and as a player, and I couldn’t be more thankful for this experience, because it’s honestly one of the best experiences of my life. I also couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to be around; I love every single one of them. Tom took a chance on me, so I’m very appreciative of what he’s been to me; he’s not just a coach, but a father figure.”

#2 Dana Cranston
Coming from Fort St. John, B.C., Cranston is labeled by her coach as a natural leader and an all-around player. She leads the team in kills, points and aces, and ranks in the top four on the team in blocks, digs and assists. She was a 2011 All-Mountain West selection and was picked to be the 2012 Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year. She is a three-time Mountain West Scholar-Athlete, and is a finalist for the 2012 Senior CLASS Award, which goes to the top national player who has excellent character and excels on the court, classroom and community. In 2011, she competed with Team Canada.

“It’s hard to describe my four years here in words. They’ve been all I imagined and so much more. All the coaches I’ve had have been so knowledgeable, supportive and so willing to do whatever it takes to put us in the best position possible as both players and people. The girls I’ve had the pleasure to play with here are my best friends and will continue to be. The fans have made this experience amazing, as well. I want to thank them for their dedication and belief in this program. Their never ending love for us makes Moby the best play to play; I can’t say thank you enough. I’m so unbelievably blessed to be here and surrounded by the people I am. The journey has been incredible.”

#5 Megan Plourde
A middle blocker from Somerset, Wis., Plourde led the nation in blocks per set a year ago—becoming just the second CSU player to lead the country in a statistical category—and was named the ninth AVCA All-American in program history. She’s a three-time All-Mountain West selection, and will look for her fourth nod this fall. She set CSU’s single-season record in blocks in 2011, and entering the final weeks of the 2012 season, ranks second in CSU history in blocks, and has a chance to become the program’s top all-time blocker. She is also one of just two players in CSU history to total more than 1,000 career kills and 600 career blocks. She is a two-time Academic all-Mountain West pick.

“These last four years have been the four best years of my life. I’ve met new friends that I’ll keep for the rest of my life, and our whole team has been a second family, so it’s been cool to experience everything with them. It truly has been an incredible experience, and one I would come back to if I ever had the chance to do so again. It’s been incredible to play in front of the Moby crowd. We’ve had unbelievable crowds, and we’re so lucky and blessed to have such a supportive community and such great student support. I will always remember and appreciate my time here.”

#17 Brieon Paige
Paige has become a constant force on both offense and defense for the Rams, and ranks No. 1 in the Mountain West in hitting percentage. The native of Fresno, Calif., was a 2011 All-Mountain West selection, and currently ranks in the top three on her team in both kills and blocks. After her junior season, she was named a COBRA Magazine All-American, and during the summer of 2012, she played with the USA Volleyball A2 team, bringing home a gold medal.

“It’s been a challenge, but I’m very grateful for the challenges. Here at CSU I have grown into a mature woman of God who loves the game of volleyball, but more importantly loves herself. With this being my last year, I wanted to make sure that I really honored God with the athleticism that He has given me, and show others my talents through Him. I don’t regret anything, and I would totally relive the whole experience again.”


 

 

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