Dec. 5, 2008

Courtesy Colorado State Athletics

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The Colorado State Rams, behind their senior trio of Mekana Barnes, Ashley Fornstrom and Jaime Strauss, posted a 3-1 win (25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 25-19) over Florida International in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Friday afternoon in Gainesville.

It marked the fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for the three seniors and their experienced showed. After capturing the first set, the Rams (23-6) dropped the second set and looked to be in trouble in the third. But the Rams rebounded and dominated the latter half of the third set and took control late in the fourth frame to seal the win.

"We knew going into the match that Florida International was a good team and they showed that today," said Head Coach Tom Hilbert. "I think today is good for us. I feel when you have a tough match in day one, you're better prepared to play the rest of the tournament. I think we'll be ready for tomorrow."

Barnes posted team highs in kills (17) and blocks (7) while hitting .419. Fornstrom dished out 52 assists, posted six digs and added two blocks while Strauss started off hot on her way to 16 kills on .310 hitting and added seven digs in the win.

"They were a good strong team and we can use that going forward no matter who we play," said Barnes. "We had to work hard today and we will have to do it again tomorrow."

The Rams move on to play the winner of the Florida-Florida A&M match on Saturday night (5:30 p.m. MST) at the O'Connell Center on the University of Florida campus. Before the Gators took on the Rattlers from Florida A&M, they sat on the baseline and took notes on their possible next opponent. It wasn't the first time the Gators have seen the Rams this season, as CSU posted a 3-0 sweep of the Gators back on Sept. 13 in Fort Collins.

Florida International, led by their star, Yarimar Rosa who led the NCAA in kills per set this season, would not go away quietly in the fourth and final set. The Rams bolted out to an 11-6 lead and led 17-13 before FIU fought back. They closed to within 20-17 but CSU responded with a 4-1 run to take a 24-18 lead and closed out the match on a FIU service error.

"We knew Rosa was a great player and she showed it tonight," said Hilbert. "We did our best on her and she still got 22 kills. But we blocked well and terminated the ball when we could, and that was the key tonight."

In the win, the Rams tallied 12 blocks and forced FIU to hit .180 with 23 attacking errors. Katelyn Steffan tallied a career-high six blocks and Tessa Nelson added four while libero Katelin Batten, was her usual self, tallying a team-high 12 digs.

The Rams were in trouble early in the third set as the came out of the break sluggish and fell behind 10-6 in the set. But a 12-5 run by the Rams, sparked by the play of Jacque Davisson, brought CSU right back and gave them a 19-15 lead. During that run, Davisson tallied three kills and energized the Rams, who took a 23-17 lead and closed the set on a Barnes kill.

The Rams started off strong in the second set, but the Golden Panthers got things going behind their defense. With the set tied at 10, FIU scored 10 of the next 14 points to take a 20-14 lead. Led by Rosa, who tallied six sets in the set, the Golden Panthers maintained at least a three-point lead for the rest of the set before winning the set and tying the match at 1.

After falling behind early in the first set (9-5), the Rams took their first lead at 11-10 thanks to a kill from Davisson. Her kill was part of a quick 5-0 CSU run that put the Rams ahead 12-10. CSU continued to roll behind Strauss who connected on each of her first five attempts tallying five kills and one dig in the opening part of the set. The Rams led 17-13 before a 3-0 Golden Panthers run brought them right back into the set. But CSU would answer by scoring two of the next three points and sealed their first set win when Barnes and Steffan combined on block. Colorado held the Golden Panthers to .094 hitting and tallied seven blocks in the opening set.

The winner of Saturday's second round match will head to Fort Collins next weekend for the NCAA regional at Moby Arena.