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A special tribute to CSU volleyball

December 14, 2009
Katelin Batten

The Minnesota Daily

MINNEAPOLIS – I’m writing this to you from the Twin Cities, trying to keep that pretend tear from running down my cheek (it’s a pretend tear because I have no idea how to cry). Why am I sad? Two reasons.

One, I just witnessed a great group of young women end a miraculous volleyball season; and two, this is the final Weekly Blitz of 2009 (for that, you should be crying as well).

And speaking of the final Blitz, this column is a tribute to the greatest volleyball team that CSU has ever had the honor of calling their own.

Even though four other CSU volleyball teams have made it to the Sweet 16, I dub the 2009 squad the best of all time.

This team beat all expectations, won a Mountain West Conference championship, had both the MWC Player and Libero of the Year, earned head coach Tom Hilbert his 500th career victory and defeated Washington, the No. 6 team in the nation, in the NCAA Tournament to move on to Regional play — that’s amazing.

In order for this to be an appropriate tribute, I feel I should “directly” address some key players.

Meghan Plourde: What a remarkable first season for you as a Ram. A redshirt freshman, you were third on the team in kills with 235 and led all CSU players who had more than 100 total attacks with a .331 clip. You’re well on your way to eventually becoming a MWC Player of the Year and possibly an all-American in the years to come.

Jacque Davisson: No single player ignites Moby Arena the way you do. At the beginning of the season I asked you why your antics and emotions come out the way they do and you said that you love volleyball more than anything in the world. Kudos. Your teammates comment about how important you are to the team, and it shows. I overheard your speech to the rest of the Rams before set three of the match against Minnesota, and I could tell CSU played with more of a swagger.

Danielle Minch: The MWC’s Player of the Year. What a spark you were to the CSU team this year when, at least from the outside perspective, you weren’t really expected to do so. From the oasis that is Sterling, it’s nice to have stars at the state’s university who are from, well, the state. The question now is, can you repeat this stellar performance in 2010? Survey says … yes.

Tessa Nelson: An incredible career came to an end on Friday, but it was only appropriate that it ended where it all began, your home state of Minnesota. It was really exciting to see you get the block in set three to give CSU that victory. Granted, I haven’t had many opportunities to interview you, but when I have been at the press conferences, win or lose, you address the media with class. Best of luck on your future endeavors, you’ll be a great ambassador of the green and gold.

Katelin Batten: While you’re without a doubt the greatest libero CSY has ever had on roster, you’re a leader in more ways than just the team captain.

I’m a Christian. Now I am in no way perfect, I’m just as flawed as everyone else. I cuss, probably too often, I say things I shouldn’t and am honestly a little more selfish than most people think I am. Still, I try to walk in the path and set the example Christ set for us. But it’s not easy, and that’s the main reason I respect you so much.

It’s so hard in today’s world to be totally open with your belief system, but you set such a great example for everyone thanks to your personal conviction in Jesus Christ. From the way you carry yourself on the volleyball floor to the way you chat with fellow students, people can tell there’s something different about you.

You’re a true leader on the CSU volleyball team and a true leader in the community; I know you’ve helped lead other athletes on campus to Christ. So I just want to thank you for being a role model, not just to other Christians and myself, but to nonbelievers as well.

God bless you and your outstanding career at CSU.

And to my faithful audience, have a merry Christmas. I’ll be back in January for another exciting semester covering CSU athletics.

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Video: NCAA Volleyball Tournament Preview

December 5, 2009

I did this with KCSU’s Nick Sebesta earlier in the week. My predictions were 100 percent correct!

Early keys to success for 2010 Colorado State football

November 30, 2009

Ricky Brewer will be a big help to the CSU defense in 2010

The CSU football team has just completed the worst season in the 11-year history of the Mountain West Conference. After starting 3-0, the Rams lost their final nine games of the season, which included eight against league foes, making them only the second school to go winless against MWC opponents in a single season as Wyoming suffered the same fate in 2000 and 2001.

What makes CSU’s performance (or would it be lack thereof?) worse than their Border War rival’s? During the first six years of the MWC there were only eight universities as TCU didn’t join until the 2005 season; therefore, the Pokes were only 0-7 in conference play compared to the 0-8 by the Rams.

Depressing, eh?

Even though I surely turned away about half of my hard working student audience here at Colorado State known as the football team with my negative lead to this column, I feel like making some way too early projections and analysis for the 2010 season.

Note to the ignorant: My remark about the football team being hard working was not sarcastic. Even with the 3-9 record, those young men are the hardest working people on campus. The chips just didn’t fall favorably.

So without further adieu, I give you my four premature keys to CSU football making it back to a bowl game in 2010:

Running backs galore

I don’t think there’s any question that heading into next season, Colorado State has the best and deepest running back corps in the Mountain West Conference. John Mosure seems to be the hardest working player on this team — no player carries the football with more force than Mosure. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in pure will.

Mosure and Leonard Mason will both be seniors next season. Combined, they had 1,406 yards nine touchdowns rushing in 2009 (766, 2 and 650, 7, respectively).

Lou Greenwood, who will be a sophomore in 2010, is guaranteed to be a star in this league. This season, he had 147 yards rushing and two touchdowns to go along with 221 yards and two scores on the receiving end of things.

Add these three with the bruiser, who is Chris Nwoke and my pick to be number one on the depth chart next year, UCLA transfer Raymond Carter, things are looking strong.

A consistent quarterback

During the first five games of the season Grant Stucker was shaping up to be a great MWC quarterback. It wasn’t until the Utah game when things started to go downhill. After that we never saw good quarterback play from anyone until Jon Eastman’s game against Wyoming in the Border War.

A successful offense needs a consistent quarterback. He doesn’t have to be the greatest, but as a coach, you need to have an idea what you’re going to get on a regular basis from under center.

I know a lot of people want redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri to start next year, mainly because of the promise a four-year starting quarterback can bring to a program. But the truth is, that might not be the best option for next season.

Jon Eastman made a great case from himself against Wyoming and assuming T.J. Borcky makes the transition back to quarterback in the spring, it’s going to be a tight battle between the two of them. If Ranieri wins the starting job, power to him, but picks are between Eastman and Borcky for the time being.

Offensive line

Colorado State was blessed with a strong and experienced offensive line during the 2010 season. The issue now: four of the five starters up front will be graduating either in December or May.

That means it’s up to guys like Mark Starr, Paul Madsen, Connor Smith, Jake Gdowski and others to pave the way. The Rams need production from their front five next year.

Welcome back, Mr. Brewer

The CSU defense had its fair share of struggles this season, especially in conference play. It didn’t help matters when Ricky Brewer, ranked second on the team in tackles in 2008, was suspended last off-season. In his place Michael Kawulok was called to step up and did so, but suffered a season-ending injury during the loss against San Diego State.

I really feel like Kawulok proved himself worthy of a starting job for this CSU team, and Klint Kubiak’s graduation opens up things for a new starter at strong safety in 2010. At 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, a hard hitter and a smart ball player, I think Brewer could be a prime candidate for the job and could really complement Elijah-Blu Smith in the secondary.

So, there you have it. My four keys to success next season. Too bad we’ll have to wait until spring to see whether or not they start to go into effect.

Wounded Warrior Project sets football precedent

November 16, 2009

Maryland's home jersey for the Wonded Warrior Project

When I turned on the Florida vs. South Carolina game on Saturday afternoon I wasn’t sure if my eyes were deceiving me due to playing too much Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 since its Tuesday release.

Sure enough, what I saw was correct.

The Gamecocks were wearing jerseys with stripes of “digital camo” across their shoulders in honor of Veterans Day. Across the backs of their jerseys in place of the players’ names were the words “Duty,” “Honor,” “Courage,” “Commitment,” “Integrity,” “Country” and “Service.”

These jerseys, also worn by the University of Maryland in their Saturday loss to Virginia Tech and designed by Under Armour, were part of the “Wounded Warrior Project,” designed to raise the public’s awareness and aid for the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces that have been injured in the line of duty.

I found this as a perfect salute to those who serve but then the question is raised, “Why don’t other schools do the same?”

I know the easy answer is that Under Armour is a direct sponsor of the

Wounded Warrior Project so only schools who are also sponsored by them could do this, but that doesn’t mean other universities couldn’t pay at least some tribute to the military during their games that take place close to Veterans Day.

It doesn’t have to be anything huge like a new jersey for the game; it could be something small like a patch or a sticker on the helmet.

This isn’t just something a few schools should do, with the exception of the service academies (who are exempt for obvious reasons), It should be an NCAA requirement for all universities — FBS through Division III — to properly pay respect to those who keep us safe.

We are the champions

Never again will I reference the “Big Three” of CSU volleyball in a column.

Not because they weren’t great players, but because that’s all in the past. On Saturday night in a very hostile Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah, the Rams captured their 12th conference championship of all-time (seventh of the 11 year old Mountain West Conference).

Coming into this season, the expectations outside of the CSU community were relatively low (if being picked to finish second in the MWC is low). There wasn’t all this pressure and marketing hype put on by the CSU Athletic Department about the “Big Year,” it was just back to hard-nosed Ram volleyball, and this team has thrived on that.

There’s no question in my mind that Danielle Minch should be the unanimous pick for MWC Player of the Year. She is a player who had flown under the radar last season, and ever since the Rams’ trip to the Carolina Classic in September, she has been more valuable to this team than NBC’s “30 Rock” to Alec Baldwin’s career, and that’s saying something.

The next step for this team: make an NCAA Tournament run. As long as senior libero Katelin Batten wears that protective mask for her broken nose, I think the Rams will do just fine due to the intimidation factor a player looking like Jason Voorhees brings to a team — just don’t light them on fire.

A pleasant surprise

I’d be ashamed if I finished this week’s Blitz without mentioning the CSU women’s basketball early success. While I stated in an earlier column that I expected this team to be much improved from a season ago — thanks in large part to the coaching job of Kristen Holt — I didn’t expect them to look this good this early.

They’ve played two regular season games against teams who run completely different style of offenses and won both. In the season opener against Montana, a team that is more methodical when bringing the ball up the court, CSU was able to make a nice second half run and come away with an eight-point victory.

Against Wichita State on Sunday, a Shocker squad who likes to press on defense and quickly move the ball up the floor, the Rams overcame an early nine-point deficit to win by 25.

All of that being done against what was, quite frankly, a dirty and rough WSU team who had fun sending the CSU women hard to the wood when they knew the game was out of hand. The Rams stood strong, didn’t back down and came out victorious. That shows heart.

It’s the first time since 2003 the women’s hoops has started the season 2-0. I’m telling ya, things are looking up.

Peterson’s reassignment raises questions

November 9, 2009

Courtesy of GoldandGreenNews.com

Something I never understood in football was why an assistant coach was called an “offensive coordinator” when the head coach called all of the plays. Granted, the head honcho should have final word, but if he’s the one with all of the say, then why call someone else an “offensive coordinator?”

As most of you know by now, last Thursday CSU offensive coordinator Greg Peterson was reassigned from his duties at that position, as well as from wide receivers coach, to focus all of his time on recruiting, an area he has served as coordinator for the Rams since he was hired on Jan. 14, 2008.

There is no doubt that Peterson is an excellent recruiter with his silver tongue and farm boy accent that makes him so easy to talk to. He has found quite a few sleepers for the Rams including: Lou Greenwood and CJ James, as well as potential stars like Chris Nwoke, Joe Brown and Nico Ranieri.

He’s a great recruiter and an excellent coach who comes from the tree of Bill Snyder, the man responsible for building what was possibly the worst program in college football history – Kansas State – into a national powerhouse in the 1990s. In his first year back here in 2009, the Wildcats are in a position to win the Big Twelve North.

Peterson has learned from the best, but in my eyes, he is about to leave the green and gold for good thanks to his reassignment due to one main reason.

By my count with the current recruiting class, the CSU football team has three scholarships remaining with their 14 current commitments from the 2010 class. On top of that, one has to assume that wide receiver Tyson Liggett will finally be on scholarship next year, cutting that number to two.

Now I understand that players transfer or burn out, or some commitments greyshirt — don’t decide to sign or choose to play professional baseball instead (i.e. Tyler Shreve) — but right now, there are three scholarships left. Why demote Peterson for just those three?

And it’s not as if he hasn’t coached some great wide receivers.

Dion Morton might be the most clutch wideout in the Mountain West Conference — Ryan Gardner had the best summer camp — but since his 43-yard catch against Colorado, he wasn’t really used again until this past Saturday at UNLV. And Jyrone Hickman could be the most talented receiver on this squad if he’d just get in a game, but most of you have probably never heard of him.

On top of that, the announcement came at such an odd time. With the Rams needing a win this past Saturday to keep their post-season hopes alive, why bring this distraction to the program, especially when there is a bye week coming up?

Now with Peterson’s reassignment, demotion or what have you, it raises the question of what other assistants are on hot seat?

So the “offensive coordinator” title gets dropped when the Rams’ offense ranks 97th in the country in scoring offense, what happens to defensive coordinator Larry Kerr and his staff when in total defense, pass defense and points allowed, CSU ranks 90th, 99th and 101th, respectively?

This season was a step backward when it comes to what happened on the field.

I still think this football program here in Fort Collins has a lot of promise for the future and a step back, as I called it, isn’t a red flag when rebuilding a program. But one of the main reasons I have so much hope for the Rams, in years to come, is because of Peterson and what he has done on the recruiting front.

Right now CSU has six three-star commitments (according to the Rivals.com database) and after speaking to three-star wide receiver Chris McAlister from Del City, Okla., last week, he appears to be favoring the Rams. This current class is looking strong with multiple guys who will most likely play as true freshmen next year.

While I know all coaches have their own recruiting area, to me, the overall success comes down to the coordinator – Peterson.

Someone will snatch up this Nebraska farm boy, and if he’s no longer on staff, are other additions or changes going to be made this off-season or are we looking at a house cleaning?

College football officiating has gone French

November 2, 2009
tags:

From fifth through seventh grade, I started at strong safety for my school’s Indian Nation Football Conference team (Northeast Oklahoma’s version of Pop Warner).

I was under 5-feet tall and weighed maybe 100 pounds. Our team was terrible and we averaged two wins a season, but the one opponent we always beat on a regular basis was the one we were the most afraid to play.

Union Red.

Why were we always scared to play them? Because they had a monster running back in Renard Johnson. Once Johnson had the ball in his hands, it took five of us to take him down, and when we did so, we always hit him tentatively.

We were actually scared of him running us over and making my teammates and I look stupid in open field situations, because we knew that bringing him down with an arm tackle was our only opportunity, despite knowing that it would fail.

Johnson (God rest his soul) went on to become an Oklahoma high school football star who later played for Army before passing away a couple of years ago.

Why do I bring this up?

Because I want to discuss how poor tackling today in college football isn’t so much contributed to the fact coaches don’t teach basics, it’s because of fear. Not the fear that the defensive player can’t bring down the ball carrier, but the fear of being called for a penalty in the way its done.

For me in seventh grade, I’ll admit, I was scared to death Johnson was going to simply demolish me, but I did tackle him (well, assisted in the process of) one time.

It was the final play of the game, and he broke loose around the right side. I was lucky enough to take a good angle on him and put my right hand on the collar of his shoulder pads. I then tried falling backward to bring him with me, except he dragged me (with legs waving in the air like an American flag on a windy day) 30 yards before Josh Hutchison caught up to finish the tackle.

Why that anecdote? Because today that would be considered a horse collar tackle and a 15-yard penalty would be assessed to the end of the run.

Due to newer rules to help protect ball carriers – quarterbacks in particular – football today has been overrun by Joey Crawford-like referees who call anything and everything that looks “too rough” as a personal foul. Never mind the fact that this is football, a sport where safeties’ eyes light up like Christmas when a receiver comes across the middle unprotected, but if that hit was “too hard with the shoulder pad,” it’s a personal foul.

There are so many rules in football today to help protect ball carriers that defensive players can’t deliver a successful “nasty hit” without having to worry if it was “too hard.” I understand that concussions are a serious issue and that leading with the helmet is an automatic personal foul because it’s a serious safety concern.

But, if a defensive tackle beats the protection and pressures a quarterback, puts his hands in the air while jumping to try to disrupt the pass and ends up landing on the QB after the gunslinger gets the pass off – you’re trying to tell me that’s a personal foul? That’s roughing the passer?

Because a 270-pound grown man is in the air and has all of his momentum already in the direction of a quarterback who still has the ball in his hand, if he lands on him, that’s roughing the passer?

What officials don’t seem realize is that we live in the real world where physics actually exist. This isn’t a game of Super Mario Bros. where that defensive tackle can just switch directions mid-air.

Allow me to pull a Dan Hawkins and remind everyone that it’s Division-I football! If you don’t like contact, go play intramural flag football – a place where I learned the hard way that refs don’t take too kindly to you stiff arming players in the face, causing bloody noses.

The same thing goes for the horse collar tackle. There’s nothing else to grab once that ball carrier gets past you, so they get an extra 15 yards. That wide receiver hadn’t turned around to see that safety slap him silly? There’s 15 more yards.

Also, there is a difference between five and 15-yard face mask penalties. Let’s be honest.

And do you know the one person it all comes down to with the increase of these calls over the past two years? Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

When something bad happens to a superstar, that’s when the rules change. I mean, let us be honest, if Bryan Waggener, starting quarterback for the Northern Colorado Bears, got injured in his season opener at Kansas this year, would anyone outside of Greeley and his mom and dad really care? It may sound rough, but the answer is probably no.

But the biggest problem is, coaches can’t publicly complain about officiating because the NCAA likes to hid behind a curtain of money and fine anyone in their jurisdiction who speaks out against their stupidity.

But the NCAA can’t fine me. I’m a member of the media and a columnist who shares his opinion. And it is my opinion that NCAA officiating is a joke.

I’m a dedicated American who loves the game of football and all I want is for the NCAA officials to meet at the end of this season and stop making the game we love so French. Let these defensive players go out and hit someone.

I wanted to eat crow, but it’s just a broken record

October 26, 2009

Credit: Rocky Mountain Collegian

When I walked into Hughes Stadium on Saturday afternoon, I was really looking forward to eating a lot of crow in my column this week with how critical I’ve been lately of the CSU defense — the secondary in particular. I was also looking forward to convincing everyone that eight wins during the regular season was still a possibility as the Rams’ first four losses of 2009 came in the nation’s most difficult four game schedule.

Well, now the only way the CSU football team can get eight wins is if they win out and are able to add a bowl victory on the end of that. But honestly, a five-win season is looking optimistic at this point.

I have to give credit to CSU’s offense on Saturday, John Mosure in particular, for doing their job to keep the Rams in the game. Mosure carried the ball 20 times for 130 yards and a score and added a 23-yard touchdown pass to fullback Zac Pauga out of the wildcat formation (or as I like to call it, the “battering ram”). Granted, once again, this offense stumbled in the second half, scoring only seven of their 28 points in the final 30 minutes.

Still, I ask the defense: What is going on? While it felt like the secondary lapses were giving away just a couple of close games, this loss has to make you wonder if the season is going to hell right along with the Rams’ yards-allowed-per-game average.

Three of CSU’s five losses have featured 14-point leads blown in the second half thanks to prolific passing attacks by the opponents, but none of the losses were as ugly and embarrassing as Saturday’s. What makes this one so bad was the fact that it came to one of the Mountain West Conference’s three bottom-dwellers. Not only that, but San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley, who averages 238.3 yards passing per game, put up 459 yards in the air and six touchdowns. Yes, that’s correct, six touchdowns.

What really enabled the Aztecs to have such success through the air in the second half was their ability to convert on third down. The Rams were stout, stopping SDSU on first and second down, but on third, the Aztecs converted 13 of 18 on the afternoon.

This is rough. And I almost feel like I’m beating a dead horse this week with the topic of my column, but it’s overkill that needs to be addressed.

I’ve always believed that college and pro athletes should never have be told to “step up,” because that should naturally be engraved in their heads. This is their job, they get paid for it (yes, college athletes get paid by scholarships. It’s a nice $10,000 to $20,000-a-year job). But the question has to be asked: Who is going to step up?

I still believe, despite whatever we saw on Saturday, that the pieces are in place in this secondary. No one is going to question (well, at least I don’t question it) the talent of Nick Oppenneer, Elijah-Blu Smith and Momo Thomas. Losing Klint Kubiak hurts, but I think that Ivory Herd can be solid at safety — he’s a hard hitter and wide receivers should be scared to come across the middle against him and Smith. But what is it going to take?

I fully respect defensive coordinator Larry Kerr and his secondary staff with Tim Duffie and Larry Lewis, but something has to change. I’m not saying personnel, but adjustments need to be made on defense when the opposing offense starts making changes — the ones we’ve seen so far this season haven’t worked.

The student/fan in me is trying to stay optimistic. There’s nothing I love more than cool, fall weather and game day at Hughes Stadium. I love supporting this team. But the journalist in me is concerned.

In order to become bowl eligible, CSU must win three of its remaining four games — two of which are on the road and the Rams have not won outside the state of Colorado all season. While a 6-6 record and either a New Mexico Bowl or Humanitarian Bowl berth might be good enough for some, I honestly feel that it would be a step backward. Well, maybe not directly backward, but at least a lateral pass.

It’s just time to focus on the Air Force Academy, who is coming off of another close loss to the Utah Utes, this time in overtime. The Falcons are going to be angry, but a win over the Rams’ rival from down Interstate 25 could propel CSU to that undefeated rest of the season we’re all looking for.

I’m really hoping that the CSU defense will stop Air Force next Saturday and let me gladly eat some crow — I don’t care if you PETA supporters don’t like it. But in order to do so, the Rams are going to need more support than the mere 6,500 students that showed up for the SDSU game.

I still have faith. Do you?