Volleyball splits against pair of 2010 NCAA tourney teams
FORT COLLINS -- Northern Colorado Volleyball knew it had a tough day in front of it Saturday during the second day of the Rams Volleyball Classic.
It started the Classic on Friday with an easy exhibition win against Slovenian Club team Nova KBM Maribor but got a considerable hike in schedule difficulty Saturday in the form of Wichita State and No. 14 Colorado State, two teams that played in last year's NCAA Tournament.
The Bears picked up their biggest win of the season in the morning match, getting a dominant 3-1 win against Wichita State just hours after the Shockers shocked the Rams on Friday night in a 3-1 win. Kelley Arnold led the way in the win, getting 13 kills and a career-high tying seven blocks.
That victory, because of tiebreakers, then set the stage for an anticipated Classic title tilt Saturday night between Northern Colorado and Colorado State, but the Bears found themselves reacting more than dictating against the Rams and fell in three nip-and-tuck sets, 25-23, 28-26, 25-20.
After getting to spread around the playing time Friday against Nova KBM, the Bears (5-4) were a confident and fresh bunch against a potent Wichita State team (4-3), and it showed, with four players getting at least nine kills in the victory and four players getting at least 10 digs, including Jill Dawson who led the way with 14.
The mood in the Bears' postgame huddle was filled with enthusiasm.
"This is a great, great win for our program," Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson said. "We have a lot of respect for Wichita State, so I'm proud of the way our girls battled in the match. It was a good win."
Everything changed in the nightcap, though, and for a variety of reasons.
For starters, the Rams (6-2) are a great team and one of the country's great programs -- Colorado State entered the day with a 202-27 home record under head coach Tom Hilbert and hadn't lost two consecutive matches at home since August 2009 -- and Colorado State, like it always does, entered with a considerable height advantage over Benson's crew.
The Rams also always bring an aura with them when playing the Bears. They have, after all, now won 10 straight matches dating back to 1982.
But this was a close match here tonight; there really wasn't much separating the two teams when taking a look at the final box score.
Colorado State did win the hitting-percentage battle (.237 to .157) and also got to more blocks (nine to seven), but the Bears won the dig war (58-43), dished out more assists (38-34) and had fewer service and ball-handling errors (11-8).
It was just that the pep in Northern Colorado's step was gone from the morning match, likely sapped by a third match in 24 hours and a rivalry contest in a hostile road environment.
And even still, had a few points here and there gone the Bears' way, the story of their Saturday might have been much different.
Arnold, who earned a spot on the 2011 Ram Volleyball Classic All-Tournament team along with Hughes, led all players with 16 kills against Colorado State, and Arterburn was her typical defensive self with a match-high 16 digs and two assists.
And redshirt-freshman Bri Strong contributed solid play off the bench, with five kills on 10 swings (.400) and three blocks in two sets.
There were good performances abound for Northern Colorado. Just not enough of them resulted in set wins.
"At the end of the day, going one and one against these two teams is a good thing for our program," Benson said. "We're not happy that we lost tonight -- this isn't really going to be a rivalry until we can beat them -- but we picked up a big win and got some valuable experience against two top programs.
"Now, we just need to keep playing. We've got three matches (at Denver, at home against Montana and Montana State) this week and not a lot of practice time. I think match play is what this team needs at this point. We need to keep working through these high-stress situations."