Match notes: CSU begins conference-title defense

Sept. 19, 2012

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Colorado State Rams (RV) vs. New Mexico Lobos
Sept. 20, 2012 | Johnson Center (5,864) | Albuquerque, N.M.

How to follow along

• Live Stats: Online stats will be provided through Gametracker.
• Video: New Mexico is offering free video streaming of Thursday’s match.
• Twitter: As always, CSU’s athletic department will tweet live updates and results from the CSU Rams Gameday Twitter account: @CSURamsGameday.

Scouting New Mexico
The Rams will open up their conference season on the road against the New Mexico Lobos. New Mexico comes into the match boasting a 12-2 record—best in the Mountain West—including a 6-1 record at home. The Lobos, though, are coming off of a 3-0 loss at Oklahoma over the weekend.
The Lobos pride themselves on their tough serving, ranking ninth in the country with 1.8 service aces per set. They are led by sophomore middle blocker Elsa Krieg, a native of Colorado, who is averaging 0.53 service aces per set, which ranks 14th in the nation. Krieg also ranks 33rd nationally in hitting percentage, at .399, and leads the team with 1.06 blocks per set.

Sophomore  right-side hitter Chantalle Riddle is pacing the team  with 4.33 kills and 4.97 points per set, putting her in the top 85 in each category nationally. The Lobos have multiple threats at setter, with two players averaging around five assists per set—Hannah Johnson (5.46) and Russell Jordan (4.80). Junior Miquella Lovata leads the team with 4.08 digs per set.

New Mexico has one of the youngest teams in the nation with only one senior (Jordan) on the roster, and eight players listed as freshmen or sophomores. The Lobos are coached by Jeff Nelson, who has gone 104-57 in his six-plus seasons in Albuquerque. The Lobos have notched four winning seasons under  Nelson’s guidance, including three 20-win seasons and two trips to the NCAA tournament.

Series vs. the Lobos
The series vs. New Mexico dates back to the Rams’ first season, 1976. As conference foes throughout the years, the two teams have faced each other each season at least once, except for 1996 and 1998. In all, the Rams hold a 44-22 advantage, including a series sweep last year. Since CSU Head Coach Tom Hilbert took over as coach in 1997, the Rams are 29-2 against the Lobos, with their only two losses coming on the road in 2005 and 2010.

In 2011, the Rams won a tough five-set match in New Mexico with junior middle blocker Megan Plourde leading the team with 14 kills, 11 blocks and 20.5 points.

CSU is 17-13 all-time on the road against New Mexico. The Rams also won the Mountain West Championships last November in Albuquerque, earning an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

Top of the Mountain
In 13 seasons with the MW, CSU has led the charge, winning nine regular-season conference championships, in addition to five MW tournament titles in 10 seasons. No other current MW team has taken home a regular-season conference title. Utah won or shared three crowns during its 12 seasons with the conference, while BYU won or shared a pair of championships.

Starting strong
In 13 years as members of the Mountain West, the Rams have consistently gotten off to a good start, winning at least their first four match 10 times, including last year. Just once (2006), has CSU lost its Mountain West opener.

First again
On Aug. 14, the Mountain West announced the preseason rankings, and again, the Rams were at the top of the list, as CSU was tabbed to win its fourth consecutive conference title. CSU received eight of the nine first-place votes (Wyoming earned the other one) from a panel made up of the nine MW head volleyball coaches.

“It seems like we’re always in this situation,” CSU Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. “It’s a target on our back. These girls are used to playing with that pressure. They know that everybody gets fired up when they play us. It requires that we go out and play with excellence every night, because we’re going to get every Mountain West team’s best every time we play them. As an athlete, you should want that.”

In all, CSU has been the preseason favorite each of the last three seasons—and four of the last five—and has won nine regular-season titles in addition to five tournament trophies.

Taking over the Mountain
Senior outside hitter Dana Cranston was selected, along with Wyoming’s Jodi Purdy, as the 2012 Mountain West Preseason Co-Players of the Year. It marks the fifth year in a row that a CSU player has been selected as the preseason player of the year. A Ram has also won the final player of the year award each of the last three seasons, and eight times in the league’s 13-year history.

What’s more, the other three seniors on the roster—Izzy Gaulia, Brieon Paige and Megan Plourde—were all selected to join Cranston on the All-Mountain West Preseason team. CSU made up four of the seven selections. Cranston, Paige and Plourde were selected to the 2011 All-Mountain West team, while Gaulia was named the 2011 Mountain West Championships outstanding libero.
Plourde named national player of the week
Senior Megan Plourde had a terrific week from Sept. 3-9, leading the Rams to a 3-0 record and Rams Volleyball Classic title behind 38 kills, 24 blocks and .449 hitting. On Sept. 9, at the completion of the tournament, she was named the tournament MVP. A day later, she earned her third Mountain West Volleyball Player of the Week award. Finally, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, she earned the pinnacle award, being named the Sports Imports/AVCA Division I National Player of the Week.

“Playing well that weekend really showed who we are as a team, bouncing back from the week prior,” Plourde said. “Putting in all the hard work we did to get better really shows how dedicated we are as a team.

“This is incredible recognition to receive, and I feel so honored to get recognized in this way. I am in such a great place and have talented and skilled teammates who push me every day in practice, along with coaches who know so much about the game. My goal is to make sure every day I am doing what I have to do to contribute and help make my team successful.”

Plourde joins Mekana Barnes (Sept. 4, 2007), Melissa Courtney (Nov. 22, 2004), Allison Peckham (Oct. 8, 2001), Kristen Walton (Sept. 6, 1993) and Carrie Appleman (Nov. 18, 1992) as CSU’s all-time national players of the week.

Moby was rockin’
Last Saturday, the Rams welcomed the No. 2 team in the country to Moby Arena, coming within a few points of the biggest upset in Moby Arena history. A total of 5,641 fans witnessed the near-upset, which ranked as the fourth-largest crowd in program history.

In all, three of the top four single-match attendance figures have occurred in the last three years. On Sept. 2, 2011 a Mountain West-record 6,750 fans watched CSU upset No. 5 Nebraska. The previous record was also held by CSU, when the Rams beat the Duke Blue Devils, Aug. 26, 2010, in front of 6,333 fans.

Moby madness
The Rams were again among the best in attendance figures in 2011, drawing an average crowd of 2,151, good for 17th in the nation. CSU has ranked high in annual attendance each year since the NCAA began calculating in 1986, including the top 10 seven times, led by the nation’s leader in 1988. With large crowds come big wins. At home, the Rams have knocked off nine teams ranked in the top 10 since 1987.

So far in 2012, CSU is averaging 2,290 fans per contest, 14th in the nation. Only three schools (Hawai’i, Nebraska and Baylor) have had larger single-match attendance figures than CSU’s mark of 5,641 on Sept. 15.

Defending champs at Moby
It’s not every day the defending national champion comes to Moby Arena to face Colorado State, but interestingly enough, CSU volleyball has played its fair share of defending champs. Saturday was the 11th time since 1983 that the Rams have played the previous season’s champion. It is the first time since 1988, however, that the defending champions have played at Moby Arena. Hawai’i won the 1987 national championship and visited Fort Collins in 1988.

In all, the feat has also happened in football three times, men’s basketball on six occasions and women’s basketball twice.
Already established as one of the program’s best blockers, senior Megan Plourde etched her name among the best on Sept. 2, recording her 500th career block. She is one of just three Rams to ever reach that milestone, joining Angela Knopf (630) and Mekana Barnes (571).

The senior hasn’t rested on the milestone, however, tallying 29 blocks in four matches since. At her current season average, she will become the school’s all-time blocking leader by the end of the year.

Helping hand
Deedra Foss won the starting setting job in last year’s fall camp, and has been just what the Rams have needed. CSU had the highest attack percentage in the Mountain West a year ago, thanks in part to Foss, who was named the league’s Newcomer of the Year. In just more than a season, she has racked up 1,571 career assists, putting her at 10th in CSU’s career record book.

Tough non-conference slate
During the second week of the season, the Rams had a four-day stretch that Head Coach Tom Hilbert called one of the toughest any of his teams have ever played, but the challenge didn’t stop there. Hilbert also believes this year’s schedule is the most difficult non-conference slate since 2000.
The Rams played five teams during non-conference play which made last year’s NCAA tournament, including two—UCLA and Pepperdine—that finished the year in the top six of the final AVCA Coaches Top 25 poll. The Rams will also face Northern Colorado on Nov. 13, which won its conference and advanced to the postseason a year ago.

UCLA, the defending national champion is currently ranked No. 1, while Pepperdine has been ranked as high as No. 11. Additionally, several other opponents are receiving national recognition, including BYU (ranked No. 14), Tennessee (No. 21) and Oklahoma (receiving votes). Wichita State and conference foe San Diego State have also received votes this year.
Block Party
CSU has always been one of the best blocking teams in the country, and the team finished 2011 ranked third nationally with 3.15 blocks per set. In 11 matches to begin the 2012 campaign, CSU is averaging 2.90 blocks per set, and has recorded 15 or more team blocks four times already. The second statistical report of the season came out on Monday, with CSU ranking 15th in blocks per set.

The Rams are 29-4 when leading their opposition in blocks since the beginning of last year, and have been outblocked just seven times during that period.

Early advantage
The Rams know that if they can win the first set, it puts them in good position to win the match. In their last 41 matches, dating back to the beginning of the 2011 season, CSU has taken the opening set 29 times, going 27-2 in those contests. CSU is 6-0 in 2012 when winning Set 1, compared to 1-4 when dropping the initial set.

About Colorado State volleyball
The CSU Rams volleyball program began in 1976, and since, has been synonymous with winning and success, averaging nearly 21 wins a season and posting an all-time record of 761-378 (.668 winning percentage). The Rams have won 17 conference titles (12 regular-season, five conference tournament), which is more than any other sport at CSU. The program’s success is seen on a national level, and can be broken down into three categories:

NCAA tournaments: CSU has been to 23 NCAA tournaments, including 17 straight dating back to 1995. Just 12 Division I teams have earned more tournament berths, and the Rams’ stretch of 17 consecutive appearances is the eighth-longest active streak in the country.
Rankings: The Rams have appeared in the final AVCA top-25 poll in 15 of their 30 seasons (the AVCA started its ranking system in 1982), including each of the past four years. Overall, CSU has been ranked in 237 of the 436 all-time weekly polls, 14th-most in the NCAA. The Rams’ highest-ever ranking was No. 3, in October 2000, and their highest final ranking was No. 6, in 1987. CSU has been ranked in the top 10 a total of 58 times—18th-most in the NCAA—and is one of 21 teams to ever be ranked in the top three.
All-Americans: With two All-America selections in 2011, the Rams have now had 10 players earn a total of 12 AVCA All-America awards in their history. Just 16 teams across the nation have more All-Americans than CSU.