It’s not every year the defending national champion visits your campus.
The volleyball team will face that honor and challenge September 15 against UCLA, the highlight of the Rams’ recently announced 2012 schedule.
“We had them on one weekend tournament and Nebraska kind of stole them,” CSU coach Tom Hilbert said. “So I kept bugging them until their fourth weekend in the Pac 12 opened up. [UCLA] called and said ‘would you do it?’ and I said yes.”
UCLA did not make its decision to travel to Ft. Collins lightly, however.
“Playing at Colorado State is obviously a huge challenge. You’re playing against a great team, a great crowd, there’s a lot of factors that are pretty adverse,” UCLA coach Michael Sealy said. “You need challenges throughout the regular season so that when you stumble against them in the postseason you can say ‘we know how to handle it’.”
The Bruins are one of six teams that played in last season’s NCAA tournament on the docket for CSU this season.
The Rams will play Tennessee and Wichita State in Wichita for the Shocker Volleyball Classic and travel to Greeley to battle in-state rival Northern Colorado later in the schedule. Wichita State was the only team to defeat CSU on its home floor last year.
“It will show us where we’re at early in the season,” Hilbert said.
In Moby, the Rams have scheduled UCLA in addition to Pepperdine and Hilbert’s alma-mater Oklahoma from last season’s NCAA tournament.
The one name that may surprise casual fans from that list is Pepperdine, but the Waves boast 21 NCAA tournaments on their resume and made the 2011 NCAA Regional Final.
“They’re always good at volleyball, [they] don’t even have a football program,” Hilbert said.
Following CSU’s match up with UCLA, the Rams will dive into Mountain West play, where they are the three time defending conference champion. This year, though, they will have to contend with newcomers Fresno State and Nevada, both coming over from the Western Athletic Conference.
“Fresno has a great history. Neither one of them were that good last year, but I think they both have great promise and those teams are going to be pretty good,” Hilbert said.
Playing that challenging of a schedule meets all of Hilbert’s goals perfectly.
“We want to create home events that are going to entertain people. We want to get enough good, quality teams that we can get two or three wins over high-RPI teams that will help us with NCAA seeding. Third, we want to prepare ourselves for our conference,” Hilbert said.
All told, Hilbert estimates 2012 will be CSU’s toughest schedule since 2004, when the Rams opened with consecutive wins against No. 5 Minnesota and No. 13 Georgia Tech, eventually playing seven matches against ranked teams.
“We could be .500 in non-conference play and still be a very good team,” Hilbert said.