Only two practices remain before the 2013 season opener on Friday, and the Rams are still working to fill the hole left from their 2012 seniors; Mountain West player of the year Dana Cranston, Megan Plourde, Izzy Gaulia and Brieon Paige, who all started for CSU just a year ago.
Of the 2012 class, Paige, Plourde and Cranston were named in the 2012 All-Mountain West team, leaving the Rams tasked with replacing their roles.
Still setting the lineup, CSU looks to follow last season’s finish when it reached its 18th consecutive advancement to the NCAA tournament and 20th season of 18-plus wins.
“There are way better teams in the MW than what we are doing right now, but we’ve got good athletes, we can get there,” head coach Tom Hilbert said.
With the season opener scheduled for Friday against Baylor to be followed with a matchup with Cal Poly on Saturday, it leaves no room for error this season. CSU has conference titles on the line, and their reputation in the MW.
“Baylor is a decent team,” Hilbert said. “These are a lot of teams that are projected to have pretty good records this year. So should we happen to get on a roll and win 20 straight, then we have a chance this season, but we’ve got to avoid bad losses. That is what hurt us last year.”
Regardless of preseason work to be done, the volleyball continues to have a following of Ram fans. Drawing in crowds of alumni and CSU students, this season will test determination and the overall motivation to win.
“I am going to try and figure out how we can win every match we play,” Hilbert said. “And thats the way we need to go about it. I don’t want to think about an NCAA streak yet, I want to think about the next match and how we can win it.”
According to the MW preseason polls, CSU is projected to finish second in the conference behind San Diego State. Last season, the Rams tied the Aztecs with a record of 13-3 in the MW.
“I think we just have pressure on us knowing it was a growing year,” freshman Michelle Lawrence said. “Going into this year feeling like the underdog, we feel like we can still come out on top and prove everyone wrong.”
According to Hilbert, the past two weeks of practice has been the most competitive he has seen in his time at CSU. With two starting positions still to be announced, players are spiking, serving and pushing themselves to ensure their spot on the court.
“The practices definitely have a completely different vibe because last year we had the four seniors who we knew could perform,” sophomore Adrianna Culbert said. “Now this year everyone is coming just coming in and competing and being really competitive, and it just really makes for a different practice experience.”
Despite the lack of experience of this young Rams team, they are determined come out stronger than ever both on and off the court.
“I can only imagine what a game will do for us, and what a game will show us where we are,” Lawrence said. “From there we will learn how much we will grow and where we need to go to dominate conference.”
Volleyball Beat Reporter Haleigh Hamblin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.