With his team’s home-opener slated for tonight at 6 p.m. against Baylor, CSU volleyball head coach has spent the last 10 days counting down his favorite moments from his 16-year stint with the program.
No. 10: In 2006, CSU entered the Mountain West tournament after finishing the regular season third in the conference.
“It was a year that I don’t think that we had really put together the resume to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, so we knew we had to win that tournament to keep the streak going,” Hilbert said.
The Rams climbed their way into the finals to face No. 9 Utah. After losing the first two sets, CSU rallied to win the next three sets and the match, putting the Rams in their 12th straight NCAA tournament.
No. 9: 4,009 fans piled into Moby Arena in 2008 to watch the Rams host the University of Florida. The Gators were ranked No. 8 in the nation before their matchup with CSU. The Rams humbled the Gators, sweeping them three matches to none.
“Beating the eighth-ranked team in the country is a pretty big deal,” Hilbert said. “It was really one of the matches where I think not only our team, but our students made a huge difference in the outcome of that match. The environment there was as good as any environment I had ever seen.”
CSU finished the 2008 season 23-7, after getting swept by Florida two games into the first round of the national tournament.
No. 8: After getting off to a rocky start in conference play in 2005, CSU got its shot a redemption with a road trip that looked less than promising on paper. The Rams were scheduled to take on Utah and No. 16 BYU, both dominant conference teams at the time. After taking the first two sets, CSU allowed the Cougars to force a fifth set, before rallying for four of the last five points in the MW thriller.
“I was really proud of our team, and I know that moment really helped our NCAA bid that year,” Hilbert said.
The last win the Rams picked up in 2005 was against CU-Boulder, knocking them out of the national tournament.
No. 7: Hilbert reached his first Sweet 16 in 1999, after his team took down No. 11 Kansas State at home in Moby Arena, where they held an undefeated record during the regular season. The Rams set a program record for winning percentage by finishing 30-3.
“It was a fantastic match, we blocked the ball exceptionally well and beat a team that really didn’t think we were supposed to win,” Hilbert said. “It was extremely sweet for me because as a coach that’s the first time I reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.”
No. 6: In 1999, CSU was first on the conference scoreboard after claiming the first-ever MW championship title. After losing to BYU just a week before, the Rams got their shot at redemption at the inaugural conference tournament.
“We got to the finals and had a simple game plan to try and change some of he things that had happened a week before, we executed it with exceptional ability,” Hilbert said.
No. 5: The Rams wrote themselves a Cinderella story in 2011 after taking down a power house Nebraska team that was ranked the fifth-best in the country. Moby was filled with a mob of 6,750 fans, good the MW attendance record, when the Rams battled back from dropping the first two sets to force a fifth, within they would grab the upset.
“An unbelievable Moby Arena crowd watched us, and helped us win the fifth set against the Huskers,” Hilbert said.
No. 4: CSU was fresh off of a five set battle from the night before in 2009 when it pulled the upset over No. 6 Washington in the second round of the NCAA tournament, launching them into the Sweet 16. The Rams picked up their fourth straight MW title with a 25-6 record in 2009.
“We came into that match very well prepared and with a game plan, we were able to block well and do all the fundamental things well, we really competed,” Hilbert said. “And that advanced us to the Sweet 16 in Minnesota, and it was one of the biggest upsets in the NCAA tournament that year.”
No. 3: More than 4,000 fans were on hand to watch CSU take down in-state rival CU in a full five sets, catapulting the Rams to their third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. The 2001 come form behind victory is still considered one of the most memorable events in Moby history to this day.
“We were down in the fifth gam 13-9 and I think a lot of people thought we were done, and then the crowd started chanting C-S-U,” Hilbert said. “It was one of the most incredible moments in Moby that I remember.”
No. 2: The biggest win in CSU volleyball program history came in 2000, when the Rams fought their way into the final four of an early season tournament, staging a matchup with UCLA, the No. 1 team in the nation after beating Florida, the host school, on national television. The Rams battled the Bruins into a fifth game, where they would find themselves down 14-11 and facing match point. CSU then rallied with the help from Angela Knopf, who picked up nine blocks in the match including the one she stuffed on match point to beat the top-ranked team in the country.
“It really changed people’s national opinion about Colorado State volleyball, that match alone did,” Hilbert said. “We ended up being ranked as high as third in the country after that match.”
No. 1: Tom Hilbert’s greatest moment during his time with CSU volleyball occurred with a match he didn’t even coach in. The Rams had just beaten No. 22 Loyola Marymount and were preparing to play No. 24 Notre Dame before Hilbert left the tournament early. Leaving assistant coach Karrie Larsen in charge, Hilbert fly home to witness the birth of his daughter, Myles.
“The top moment for me wasn’t about a match that I coached, but one that I didn’t coach,” Hilbert said. “We should always try and keep our important moments in perspective. Go Rams volleyball, and I hope this 2013 season has a lot of great moments.”
Sports Editor Quentin Sickafoose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @QSickafoose.