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C-S-U-RAMS! I’ve missed volleyball

August 24, 2009

The Weekly Blitz. Three years on staff here, and I finally get my own column to spout off about whatever I want to –– there’s nothing better. Well come one, come all and welcome to my first weekly column chronicling everything in Colorado State athletics from the dominance that is Rams volleyball to the hilarity that surrounds football’s defensive line coach Scott Brown and his refusal to wear anything but shorts at practice (but that’s why we love him).

We’ll also be bringing you around-the-clock coverage of CSU athletics at our sports blog, CollegianSports.com, which will feature practice updates of all football and volleyball practices attended along with live game blogs of all of the main events going on in Ram athletics. There will also be exclusive video posted to the blog following every football game so that you can look at things from field level. And you can catch the online version of my column and video blogs at weeklyblitz.wordpress.com.

Well, enough with the obvious attempt at getting you to check out our Web site. I  t’s going to be a wild ride this year in Ram athletics, so what do ya say? Let’s do this thing.

For a moment I’m going to reminisce back to my first year on campus here in Fort Collins, a year I knew nothing about volleyball. Wow, did I miss a year of amazement at Moby. The only game I went to that year was the regular season home finale against Air Force.

Listen to me when I tell you, volleyball games are the place to be.

This team really has the makings to do some great things in 2009. Last season, 2008, was supposed to be the “Big Year,” as their campaign was titled, led by seniors Ashley Fornstrom, Mekana Barnes and Jamie Strauss. They played host to headline opponents like Florida and North Carolina during the regular season and even had an NCAA Tournament Regional set for Fort Collins. Unfortunately, after a hot start to the season, CSU suffered in the final weeks and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Gainesville, Fla.

So where do the Rams go from here? That’s a question I had been asking myself all summer until I went to volleyball’s Media Day last week. The answer was so simple that I couldn’t believe I didn’t think of it myself.

While doing an interview for my video blog with senior libero Katelin Batten, I asked her what the expectations were for the team this season. In her answer, she said something that really stood out.

“There’s no pressure on us this year.”

That’s it. What a selling point. Batty hit the nail on the head right there. Last season the Rams had arguably the most talented team ever coached by Tom Hilbert during his tenure at Colorado State, but the end result was another second round exit from the NCAA Tournament. There was no question about the great talent and coaching on this CSU squad last year; they peaked with a No. 12 ranking nationally.

There was so much pressure on the team heading into the season last year that I think it’s one of the main reasons why it ended the way it did. Granted, I’m not out on the floor wearing spandex every week (yes, your mind has just been scarred for life with that image), but that’s my 2-cents.

This year’s team has that whole underdog thing going for them, ranking second in the Mountain West Conference preseason poll behind Utah and a No. 24 national ranking in the AVCA poll. While the marquee names like Fornstrom, Barnes and Strauss are no longer wearing the green and gold, you still have a lot of talent on this squad –– athletes who could easily propel this team to a MWC championship.

First player of note is middle blocker Tessa Nelson: The senior was voted as the preseason MWC Co-Player of the Year with New Mexico’s Jade Michelson. Last year Nelson was second on the team behind Barnes, with a .308 hit percentage, 132 blocks and 22 assists. She was an All-MWC selection last year and seems poised for another good season.

Next up is Batten (also known as “Batty”): In terms of returning players in the MWC, the senior libero placed second in digs in 2008 with 40. Wearing No. 6, the libero on each team is marked by wearing a different color jersey than her teammates.

Finally, we get to the two players who really came onto the scene hard in 2008 as underclassmen –– junior outside hitter Jacque Davisson and sophomore opposite hitter Katelyn Steffan.

Davisson became a fan favorite last year with her antics on the court, which will continue to really help get the crowd into the game. Davisson had 173 kills last year, each of which were followed by a unique celebration that she says is driven by her love of the game.

An interesting note about Davisson is that she has never been a part of the Ram volleyball team during a match in which the team lost. This CSU squad has a home winning streak that has lasted the entire 2007 and 2008 seasons, and they will attempt to keep that going starting Friday.

Steffan, who stands at 6-foot-4, really turned heads during her redshirt freshman season in 2008, where she tallied 224 kills, 85 blocks and 24 service aces, which was good for 10th in the MWC. The only Ram with more service aces was Davisson, who ranked third in the conference with 28.

The Rams are riding a 28-game winning streak at home inside Moby Arena; they’ve gone to 14 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and last year ranked ninth nationally in attendance. But none of that matters starting Friday, when CSU opens its 2009 season here in Fort Collins against Pepperdine, the team who handed the Rams their first loss of last season. I’ll be there. Will you?

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