Dec. 1, 2011
By Nic Hallisey
Athletic Media Relations
HONOLULU, Hawaii—All year, the Colorado State Rams have played with a bullseye on their back, proving they can win when the target is on them. Thursday, in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, CSU proved it can compete with the nation’s best, knocking off 13th-ranked Oregon in five sets (24-26, 25-21, 25-21, 15-25, 15-10).
“I thought this was a well-played match by both teams,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. “I thought it was a battle, and I’m really proud of my team.”
The win advances CSU to the regional quarterfinals for the fifth consecutive season. It also marks the first time in 10 tries that the Rams have won a match in Hawaii.
Junior Megan Plourde, the nation’s best blocker, was an offensive and defensive force, recording a double-double with 15 kills and a match-high 11 blocks, which also ties a season high. As a team, the Rams outblocked the Ducks 18-6.
“There are two things that we do pretty well,” Hilbert said. “We serve well and we block well. We are one of the better blocking teams in the country. I think that makes the difference. That ended up being the tale of the tape.”
Also getting in on the blocking was setter Deedra Foss (career-high-tying eight) and junior Brieon Paige (seven). Senior Katelyn Steffan and sophomore Tori Brummet each had four. Steffan recorded a team-high-tying 15 kills, while junior Dana Cranston had 10 kills and Paige added nine.
Libero Izzy Gaulia crushed her career high in digs with 39.
“She played with a great deal of energy, that’s for sure,” Hilbert said of Gauila. “She was very good. Overall, defensively, we all played pretty good.”
The Rams had to battle back after letting Set 1 slip away. Leading for the majority of the set and being within a few points of taking the opening set, Oregon took a timeout trailing 22-20. But the Ducks took four of the next five points to force set point (24-23), and a few points later got the Set-1 win, 26-24. It was the only time in the entire set CSU trailed by more than one point.
Oregon had the early momentum after a late first-set comeback, but CSU wouldn’t let the Ducks maintain it for long, coming out for Set 2 with energy to take early leads of 6-3 and 8-5. Oregon fought back, taking a quick 13-11 lead on a 3-0 run—its first since 3-2—but the Rams responded with four of their own to reclaim the lead for good. Oregon got within one, 16-15, but CSU fired back with four of five to take its biggest lead of the match at the time, 20-16, on a Steffan ace, and then expanded on it on the next play with a block by Plourde and Foss.
“It was interesting to me because the first set I felt like we were in control of it and we let it slip away,” Hilbert said. “The second set, we won that set with eight kills, and that’s pretty rare.”
CSU led Oregon from start to finish in Set 3, jumping out to a 5-1 lead and never looking back. Oregon made it close on several occasions, but CSU never folded. Leading 22-18, the Ducks took their second timeout of the set. Returning to the court, Oregon scored the next three points to make it a 22-21 set. But the Rams got a sideout and rolled. With Steffan serving, the Rams got the final three points, which featured a block and kill from Cranston, to take the Set-3 win.
In a sharp contrast to Set 3, Oregon did not trail in the fourth set, winning 25-15. The Ducks claimed the set’s first two points, and CSU never regrouped, falling behind by scores of 9-4, 17-11 and eventually the set’s final score. Oregon outhit CSU .412-.062, committing just two hitting errors.
“I think we got on a lull in Game 4,” Steffan said. “We needed to re-gather ourselves, refocus and do the things that we know we’re good at. We know that we can compete with anyone in the country, it’s just a matter of proving that.”
That they did, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead and never trailing in the fifth game.
“I think we came out with a sense of pride and just a little chip on our shoulder,” Steffan said, “knowing we didn’t want what happened in Set 4 to happen again. We know we’re a good team. We came out and got a little lead in the fifth set and that helped us confidence-wise. I think we had more passion than they did.”
The win is CSU’s second over a ranked opponent of the season (also then-No. 5 Nebraska). Oregon had previously knocked off four top-10 teams in the regular season.
With the win, the Rams will advance to Friday’s regional quarterfinal against either Northern Colorado or host and No. 10 seed Hawaii. Friday’s match will be played at 7 p.m. local time (10 p.m. MT), and can be accessed through a fee-based video stream or on 90.5 FM (www.KCSUFM.com).