Stevens: Lobo Volleyball Faces Beastly CSU Rams

Sept. 19, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Volleyball - Mountain West Conference - Johnson Center

Thursday: 7 p.m., Vs. Colorado State (7-4, 0-0 MW) - Jam Johnson Night (all tickets $3)

Saturday: 7 p.m., Vs. Wyoming (11-3, 0-0 MW) - Family Night/High School Team Night
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By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

The Beast is coming down from the North - with a swagger, with horns, with a mystique that sometimes seems to be worth a few extra spikes, a few extra points.

Yes, the Colorado State Rams are beastly on the volleyball court. They are what the CSU football teams wishes it could be. Heck, they are what most Mountain West teams wish they could be.

The Rams will walk into Johnson Center on Thursday night carrying their equipment bags, but they also shoulder something intangible, but something very much real.

They shoulder tradition and an attitude that comes from establishing that tradition. The Rams have won 17 conference titles - more than any other sport at CSU. They have averaged almost 21 wins a season since 1976 and have won nine of the 13 MW regular-season titles.

"They have a certain confident walk about them," said Lobo senior Jordan Russell. "It's well deserved. They work hard and they are good, but I think we can play with them. Anyone can win on any night. We'll have a game plan and hopefully we can execute it and go after them."

The Rams have been picked to win the 2012 Mountain crown and open that charge at expectations at 7 p.m. Thursday against the young Jeff Nelson Lobos. Nelson can relate to what Coach Bob Davie is going through on the football field.

Nelson is down three players for the CSU match: Elsa Krieg, Ashley Kelsey and Sara Stelzer. Krieg and Kelsey are out for the season and Stelzer might be moving toward a redshirt season. That translates into about 25 percent of his roster.

And here comes CSU.

"I think Colorado State is a Top Ten team this year," said Nelson. "It's a tough opening match, but it prepares us for what is ahead. I think that's good.

"I would rather play a good team than a sloppy team first. We have to raise our level. CSU looks really good right now. They are exceptional in the middle and they have solid outside hitting. This game should force us to a higher level."

The Lobos have a nice 12-2 record, but Nelson's schedule has placed a lot of winnable games in front of his young squad. His Lobos went out and played well and won 12 of them. The Lobos are coming off a 3-0 loss at Oklahoma.

"One of the things we came out of the match talking about was how we need to toughen up," said Nelson. "We came out of the Oklahoma match making some excuses when things went bad. Oklahoma exposed a few things, but that gave us something to work on."

The Rams also played Oklahoma, beating the Sooners 3-1. CSU has solid wins over New Mexico State (3-1) and No. 12 Pepperdine (3-0). The Lobos can't afford to let the Rams get on a roll Thursday in Johnson Center.

The loss of Krieg is a blow. She was No. 2 on the team in kills per set at 2.00, behind leader Chantale Riddle's 4.33 mark. It will be interesting on Thursday - and Saturday when Wyoming visits - to see how the blockers set up for Riddle's bombs.

Riddle is playing well and has been named to three all-tournament teams this season. The Lobos have a tough challenge Thursday and Saturday. Wyoming has posted an 11-3 mark and is looking at 2012 as an NCAA postseason year.

The Cowgirls, who beat UNM three times last season, are led by senior Jodi Purdy, one of the elite players in the Mountain. They were picked to finish third in the MW race.

Nelson said, "It think Fresno State has stepped up, but CSU, Wyoming and San Diego State still appear to be the top three. There is no question that Colorado State is the clear favorite."

Said Russell: "Colorado State is a program that has a tradition of bringing in big kids and being a big-time program. They have been the top of the conference since I've been here. We just have to go at `em.

"I'm hoping our young players will go out there with that attitude, `We will play whoever we play and see what happens.'"