Volleyball Match Notes: CSU closes regular season in search of undefeated record

Prior to Friday's match, CSU's three seniors will be recognized. After the match, the team will be presented with the 2013 Mountain West championship trophy.

Prior to Friday's match, CSU's three seniors will be recognized. After the match, the team will be presented with the 2013 Mountain West championship trophy.

CSU Match Notes #17 | San Diego State Notes | UNLV Notes
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Nov. 26, 2013

Match 28: No. 9 Colorado State vs. San Diego State
Wednesday, Nov. 27 | 7:30 p.m. MT | Fort Collins, Colo. | Moby Arena

Match 29: No. 9 Colorado State vs. UNLV - Senior Night
Friday, Nov. 29 | 7 p.m. MT | Fort Collins, Colo. | Moby Arena


SCOUTING SAN DIEGO STATE

San Diego State’s season has been full of ups and downs. Picked to win the Mountain West in the preseason poll, the Aztecs haven’t found their groove, compiling a 15-13 record on the year, including a 10-8 mark in conference play. San Diego State has especially struggled on the road, going 2-9 on the year, with their most recent road victory coming Oct. 26 at Boise State. However, the Aztecs have won three of their past four matches, including home wins over UNLV and Utah State.

As a team, the Aztecs rank first in the MW in assists, second in kills and third in digs. The Aztecs are led on offense by senior outside hitters Summer Nash and Raegan Shelton. Nash leads the team with 3.57 kills per set, while Shelton ranks second on the team with 3.44. The duo rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in the MW. The seniors have played strong as of late, combining for 31 kills in a three-set win vs. Utah State last week. Junior outside hitter Michelle Waber averages 2.99 kills per set to give the team a valuable third option on offense.

On defense, four different San Diego State players average at least two digs per set, led by junior libero Courtney Vacarello’s 3.53, which ranks seventh in the MW. At the net, senior middle blocker Emily Harris leads the team with 1.12 blocks per set — seventh in the conference — while sophomore middle blocker Kaja Sandberg is second on the team with 1.06 blocks per set — 10th in the MW.

SERIES VS. THE AZTECS
Overall, the Rams are 34-15 all-time against San Diego State, including 17-5 at Moby Arena. Under Head Coach Tom Hilbert, the Rams have been almost unstoppable, going 31-2, including 22 straight victories between 2003 and 2012. CSU is 23-1 against San Diego State when playing as a ranked team.

Earlier this season in San Diego, several Rams contributed to the four-set victory. Junior setter Deedra Foss had 48 assists and eight digs while setting up the offense efficiently. Junior outside hitter Marlee Reynolds registered a team-high 18 kills and seven blocks, while senior middle blocker Samantha Peters chipped in with 13 kills and nine stuffs. In the back row, sophomore libero Jaime Colaizzi was all over the court, recording 20 digs.

SCOUTING UNLV
At 16-12 on the year and 11-7 in Mountain West play, UNLV finds itself a game out of second place in the conference standings entering the final week of the season. The Rebels have given opponents trouble on the road, winning six of their eleven matches away from Las Vegas.

UNLV will be sure to extend rallies, ranking first in the conference with 15.61 digs per set. The Rebels have one of the top defenses, also ranking fifth in the MW in opponent hitting and blocks per set, while ranking sixth in assists an kills.

The Rebels are paced by their reliable senior outside hitter Sekola Falemaka. Standing at just 5-8, Falemaka leads the team with 3.57 kills and 4.07 points per set, placing her fourth and third in the Mountain West, respectively. Throughout the year, Falemaka has also showcased her versatility. With 0.27 service aces per set, she ranks ninth in the MW, and with 3.15 digs per set, she ranks 10th. On defense, UNLV is led by a pair of dynamic middle blockers. Senior Madeline Westman leads the team with 1.20 blocks per set — fourth in the conference — while junior Katlin Winters is ninth in the conference with 1.07 blocks per set. In the back row, junior libero Allison Davies averages 4.24 digs per set, a mark that ranks fourth in the Mountain West.

SERIES VS. THE REBELS
CSU has been dominant against UNLV in the series history, boasting a 32-6 record, including 16-1 in Fort Collins. Dating back to 2008, CSU has won each of the previous 11 matches against UNLV, including seven in a row at home. While playing as a ranked team, the Rams are 15-3. In October, the Rams held off a late surge by the Rebels to cling to a five-set victory in Las Vegas. In the match, senior middle blocker Samantha Peters and junior setter Deedra Foss each posted double-doubles. Peters registered a career-high 14 kills and 11 blocks, while Foss recorded 54 assists and 16 digs. Five Rams registered at least 10 digs, led by sophomore Jaime Colaizzi’s 22.

LOOKING FOR PERFECTION
At the beginning of the 2013 season, the team’s focus was to turn a rebuilding year into a fifth consecutive Mountain West championship. While whispers of an undefeated season have grown throughout the course of the year, Head Coach Tom Hilbert continuously stated that he didn’t mention it to his players, and that the team’s focus was on winning the conference.

The conference championship and NCAA tournament berth have been secured, and now, with one week remaining in the regular season, the Rams are two wins away from putting themselves on a short list of teams to run the table. Since 2000, six teams have gone undefeated through the regular season, but none have since 2009. In 2013, both CSU and Missouri are undefeated entering the final week.

RECORD-SETTING START
The 2013 Rams made history on Nov. 2 with a come-from-behind victory at Utah State, setting a program record for wins to start a season (21).

“That’s a record that these players deserve all the credit for,” Hilbert said after his team came back from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Aggies. “They’re just good competitors. They have a lot of grit and determination. You can say what you want about our schedule or whatever, but we haven’t lost in 21 matches, and we’ve been in some pretty precarious situations, and that’s pretty neat. I sit back sometimes in awe of this group of players, and the things they continue to do in these tough situations. I don’t think this is me as a coach; I think this particular group has character, and just have it. They have a magical way of competing and doing well in end-games. That’s just these kids; they’re great.”

In 2001, the Rams went 20-0 before suffering their initial defeat on Nov. 3 to No. 15 Utah. They finished the year ranked No. 10 with a 29-4 record.

RECORD-SETTING WINNING PERCENTAGE
With 27 wins already under their belt, the Rams are tied for sixth in program history for wins to a season. One win this week will tie for fifth (1987), and a pair of victories will tie for fourth (2001). CSU has reached 30 or more victories three times, including a program-record 32 in 2000.

Without suffering a defeat, however, CSU can assure itself of the highest winning percentage in program history with one win this week, regardless of what the Rams do in the NCAA tournament. Currently, the Rams’ best winning percentage came in 1999, when CSU went 30-3 (.909). Entering this week, CSU can finish no worse than 27-3 on the year (.900; second).

TWENTY-SEVEN IN A ROW
Not only are the Rams off to their best start ever, but the team’s 27-match winning streak is also a program record. CSU passed the 2003 team’s mark on Nov. 14, with their 24th straight victory. In 2003, the Rams won 23 straight matches between Sept. 20 and Dec. 6. In addition to a program mark, the Rams’ win at San José State on Nov. 21 set a Mountain West record. The previous high (25) was held by Utah in 2006.

CSU’s 27 straight victories is the second-longest active streak in the NCAA, trailing only Missouri’s 33. Excluding the Rams’ NCAA tournament loss to No. 22 Purdue last season, they haven’t lost a contest since Oct. 25, 2012, a span of 35 consecutive regular-season victories, a program and active NCAA record.

FIVE-PEAT
On Nov. 15, CSU swept Air Force to improve to 16-0 and clinch a share of the Mountain West title. Twenty-four hours later, Utah State defeated Fresno State, eliminating the Bulldogs and giving the Rams the title outright. It marked the fifth consecutive season that CSU has won the Mountain West regular-season title, something that has been matched just one other time (CSU from 2000-04). The Rams will be presented with the 2013 Mountain West championship trophy following Friday’s match vs. UNLV.

With the championship, the Rams earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, CSU’s 19th straight – which ranks seventh actively in the NCAA. Since the formation of the MW in 1999, CSU has won 11 of the 15 regular-season crowns, in addition to five tournament championships in nine opportunities.

“Our goal at the start of the season was to win the Mountain West, so I’m very proud of these players for accomplishing that goal,” Hilbert said after the championship. “However, we’re not satisfied. Now our focus is on winning all of our Mountain West games; that is what we want to do. I don’t want to let the air out of the balloon. We need to stay focused and win matches.”

The fact that CSU locked up the title with two weeks to play is impressive, but making it more remarkable is the fact that the Rams won despite being picked to finish second in the preseason poll for the first time since 2009. Of the nine times that CSU has not been picked to win the league, the team has done so five times.

Entering 2013, just three other schools had won their respective conference title in each of the last four seasons (Albany, 5, America East; Dayton, 4, Atlantic 10; and Hawai’i, 18, Big West in 1995 and 2012, WAC from 1996-11). Of those teams, none are currently leading their conference.

SELECTION SHOW WATCH PARTY
CSU knows it will be playing in the NCAA tournament for a 19th straight season. All there is to learn now is where and who the Rams will be playing. Fans are invited to join the team and coaching staff Sunday at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop (1335 W. Elizabeth St., No. 125) as the Rams learn their postseason fate. Festivities begin at 6:30 p.m., with free chips and queso available, in addition to other food and drink specials.

Head Coach Tom Hilbert will address fans prior to the announcement, predicting what he believes will unfold. The selection show begins at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU. Once the announcement is made, Hilbert will again talk about the matchup and answer questions.

SALUTE TO OUR SENIORS
Prior to Friday’s match, CSU’s three seniors will be recognized for their contributions to the program.

  • Cayla Broadwater - joined the team this fall after playing for three seasons at UConn and a season with the CSU track & field team, competing in the high jump... Made her biggest impact in Set 3 vs. Fresno State (Oct. 24)... With CSU trailing 11-19, Broadwater checked in, igniting a 9-0 Rams run to take the lead... CSU would go on to win the set, with Broadwater totaling three blocks.
  • Samantha Peters - after playing sparingly her first two seasons at CSU because of a nagging back injury and being stuck behind two AVCA All-Region middle blockers, Peters made a name for herself during her senior season, posting some of the top numbers in school history... She is effective on both sides of the net, and is the only player in the nation to average at least 1.49 blocks per set with a hitting percentage above .410.
  • Michelle Smith - has been part of each of CSU’s five straight Mountain West titles, serving as a defensive specialist... Has earned several starts this season... Off the court, initiated the Rams Care student-athlete service project to fight homelessness in northern Colorado and is a two-time Mountain West Scholar-Athlete.

FIVE GOLDEN RINGS
The CSU volleyball team has had experience an unprecedented amount of success over the past two decades, and every player to have played four seasons under Head Coach Tom Hilbert has won at least two conference championships, with all but two winning three (regular season or tournament). Michelle Smith, who has been with the program since 2009, is just the second player in CSU history to win five regular-season conference championships in her career. The other is Katie Jo Shirley-Cahoon, who won titles from 2000-04.

REWRITING HISTORY

  • 35 straight regular-season victories (program record; longest active streak NCAA)
  • 27 consecutive wins (program, MW records; second-longest active streak in NCAA)
  • 21 straight home wins (tied for second in CSU history; third-longest active streak in NCAA)
  • 17 consecutive true road wins (program record)
  • 19 straight wins away from Moby Arena (road or neutral) during the regular season (program record)
  • 25 straight Mountain West victories
  • Five weeks in the top 10 of the AVCA top-25 poll (CSU’s highest national ranking since 2004)

REMAINING UNDEFEATED
Entering the final week of the regular season, CSU is one of two Division I teams to have yet to lose a match, joining No. 4 Missouri. While this is the best start to a season in terms of wins, it is also the longest in terms of date on the calendar. The latest CSU had previously gone without losing a match was Nov. 3, in 2001.

CSU has never been the only unbeaten team in the NCAA. In 2001, when the Rams were 20-0 in November, Long Beach State was the only other ranked undefeated team. That year, the 49ers went 33-1, with their only loss coming to Stanford in the national championship. In 1999, CSU was one of three ranked unbeaten teams before losing at UNLV on Oct. 16. Hawai’i (finished 29-2, Sweet 16) and Northern Iowa (30-1, Sweet 16) were the other undefeated teams at that point.

HOME-COURT DOMINANCE
Success at Moby Arena is nothing new to the CSU Rams. But the level at which they are performing at home this year is unparalleled. The Rams have dropped just two sets at home this season, which would be the fewest in program history. CSU lost five sets in both 2001 and 2011 and seven on four occasions, most recently in 2008.

  • With a 13-0 home record entering the week, CSU can finish the season undefeated at home for the fifth time in program history with a pair of wins. With a split on the week, CSU’s 14-1 home record would tie for eighth-best.
  • The Rams are riding a 21-match home win streak, tied for the second longest in program history, and the third-longest active streak in the nation. Since 2011, CSU is 39-2 at home, the second-best winning percentage in the NCAA.
  • The Rams are expected to set a program record for single-season attendance averages, currently pulling in nearly 3,200 fans per match.

FILLING UP THE GYM
Always known as one of the loudest gyms in the entire country, CSU’s Moby Arena currently ranks eighth nationally, averaging 3,192 fans per contest. The average is on pace to be the highest in program history. Currently, the program’s best attendance average came in 2001, when the Rams brought in 2,846 fans per match. CSU will need to draw just 1,195 fans over its final two matches in order to establish a new single-season attendance record.

The Rams set a season high with 4,801 fans on Oct. 12 (3-0 win vs. Boise State), the 10th-largest attendance figure in program history. CSU has posted three 4,000-plus crowds this season, the third time in program history (1987, five; 1988, three).

CSU is one of five teams nationally to rank in the top 10 for both attendance averages and in the AVCA top-25 poll (also Nebraska, Texas, Penn State and Missouri).

GETTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
CSU began its conference-title defense on Sept. 18 by sweeping Wyoming in three tight sets and never looked back, leading the league wire to wire for the fourth time in the past five seasons.

The Rams are 18-0 in Mountain West play, marking the Rams’ best-ever start to conference and the most wins. Prior to 2013, the Rams’ best start was a 14-0 record in 2003. CSU followed up its perfect record in the regular season with three wins in the conference tournament. The only other team to go perfect through its MW slate was the 2006 Utah team, which went 16-0 during the regular season before being upset by CSU in the finals of the MW Championships.

In October, CSU finished the first half of its MW season 10-0, marking the sixth time in the league’s 15-year history that the Rams have gone unbeaten in the first half of MW play.

20 WINS ONCE AGAIN
On Oct. 31 at Boise State, CSU won its 20th match of the season, marking the 19th straight year that the Rams have reached that mark. Nebraska (39), Penn State (36), Florida (22) and Hawai’i (20) are the only teams to have a longer streak than CSU.

NO. 9 IN THE POLL
Following two conference road wins, CSU moved up to No. 9 in this week’s AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Poll, a one-spot rise. The Rams had previously been at No. 10 for three weeks after earning a No. 9 ranking on Oct. 28, its first top-10 placement since the Nov. 29, 2004 poll.

“We’re in this position because we’re undefeated,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said after the team’s No. 9 ranking in late October. “We have to stay humble and go win the next match. There is no selfishness on this team. No one feels like they have to prove something, they just go out and play great volleyball. That’s how we need to continue to play.”

While it had been nearly a decade since CSU was in the top 10, the program has a strong history of being among the best in the nation. CSU has been ranked more frequently than all but 14 teams in NCAA history, and earned a spot in the top 10 for the 63rd total time on Monday, a number that ranks 19th among all programs. All-time, CSU is 426-125 as a ranked team, including 121-23 while in the top 10. The Rams’ highest-ever ranking is No. 3, in 2000.

CSU began the 2013 season receiving 15 points in the preseason poll, good for 38th, but with each victory, continued to climb the rankings, cracking the top 25 for the first time on Sept. 16.

In the most recent poll, UC Santa Barbara, which CSU defeated in September, earned eight points (31st). Pepperdine, San Diego State and Texas A&M have also been ranked or receiving votes throughout the season.

RPI TRACKING
For the first time all season, CSU fell in the RPI, dropping two spots to No. 20. The RPI is based off of three categories: a team’s winning percentage (25 percent), its opponents’ winning percentages (50 percent) and the winning percentage of its opponents’ opponents (25 percent). CSU was at No. 25 during the season’s first release in October, and peaked at No. 18 last week.

Over the past two seasons, the NCAA tournament selection committee has primarily used the RPI for seeding teams and determining the 16 first- and second-round host sites. The Rams have submitted a bid to host.

On the year, nine of CSU’s 19 opponents rank in the top 100, led by Texas A&M (32). Four of CSU’s 2013 opponents played in last year’s NCAA tournament, including Northern Colorado (W, 3-0) Pepperdine (W, 3-1), Texas A&M (W, 3-0) and San Diego State (W, 3-1 and Nov. 27). The Aggies were unofficially ranked No. 26 when the two teams met in September, and Pepperdine, San Diego State and UC Santa Barbara have each received votes throughout the season.

CSU is one of eight teams nationally to be ranked in the top-50 RPI every season since the index was created in 1999.

RELOADING, NOT REBUILDING
The Rams’ 27-0 start is remarkable, but making it more impressive is how it has happened. Head Coach Tom Hilbert should be the favorite to win his ninth Mountain West Coach-of-the-Year award and in contention for a second AVCA Region Coach-of-the-Year honor in three seasons after transforming the 2013 squad from a rebuilding year to a reloading year. The Rams are having one of their best-ever seasons despite losing much of their production from last year’s MW championship team which went 21-8.

  • CSU lost five players, including four of its starters. All four were All-MW selections during her career, and two were AVCA All-Americans.
  • CSU graduated 68.15 percent of its offense from a year ago, including the team’s top three attackers.
  • CSU graduated 60.98 percent of its blocks, including three of the top four blockers. Megan Plourde finished her career as the second-best blocker in program history, and ranked in the top 10 in the NCAA from 2010-12.
  • CSU graduated 48.18 percent of its service aces, including the top three averages.
  • CSU graduated 48.37 percent of its digs, including its starting libero.
  • Of CSU’s starters in 2013, just one was starting in her current position a year ago.


ROAD WARRIORS
The Rams made history on Oct. 19, defeating San Diego State to win their 12th consecutive true road match, a program record. The streak began on Oct. 27, 2012, at Nevada, and has since increased to 17.

Including neutral-site victories, CSU went a perfect 14-0 away from Moby Arena during the regular season in 2013, a program first. The Rams were winless in their first five road or neutral matches a year ago, but finished strong, winning their final five down the stretch of the regular season.

  • 17 straight true road wins since Oct. 27, 2012 – program record
  • 14-0 road/neutral record in 2013 – program record
  • 19 straight regular-season road/neutral victories since Oct. 27, 2012 – program record

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