Dec. 4, 2009

Courtesy of Colorado State Sports Information

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Junior outside hitter Danielle Minch tallied a team-leading 15 kills to lead Colorado State (24-5) to a five-set victory over Middle Tennessee State (25-10) Thursday night at Moby Arena in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"This team, MTSU, is awfully good and posed some difficult challenges," said Head Coach Tom Hilbert. "That's a good volleyball team and I think this is as good of a win as we've had all year."

After suffering frustrating losses in Sets 2 and 4 against a very quick and scrappy Middle Tennessee State squad, the Rams got the Moby faithful behind them early in the fifth set, storming out to a 4-0 lead in the deciding race to 15.

"Even though we were playing at home, they're a great volleyball team," said Minch of the Blue Raiders. "And as much as our fans help us, which they do so much, it comes down to us. Toward the end we finally got into a groove where we were confident and comfortable."

It should come as no surprise that the Rams felt comfortable in the fifth set, as the team had won all five of its previous five-set matches this season. And, with a newly rediscovered groove, and the 2,588 screaming fans behind them, the Rams extended their led to 10-2 in the set, before capturing the 15-6 victory.

"We've won some five-set matches on the season so we should be pretty comfortable with it by now," added senior middle blocker Tessa Nelson. "We just tried using that to our advantage."

Nelson, who was held in check early but tallied eight kills in the final three sets, also recorded a pair of blocks for the Rams, who entered the match as the 16th-ranked blocking team in the country and outblocked MTSU by a 9-7 margin.

Redshirt freshman Megan Plourde recorded a match-high six blocks for the Rams, and junior opposite hitter Katelyn Steffan notched five blocks. Plourde also added seven kills for the Rams.

Junior outside hitter Jacque Davisson added eight kills for the Rams, but perhaps it was something she said between Sets 4 and 5 that had an even greater impact on the outcome of the match.

Nelson said, "We got a pep talk from Jacque, and she just was telling us, `This is everything; this is all we've worked for. Let's go out there and win it with that attitude."

The Rams did just that, beating a Blue Raiders team that had appeared in the second round of the NCAA tournament in each of the last three seasons.

Overall, the Rams hit just .164 against a stout MTSU defense, while holding the Blue Raiders to .179 for the match.

Sophomore setter Evan Sanders recorded 40 assists to go along with four kills and seven digs. Senior libero Katelin Batten notched a match-high 24 digs in the contest.

With the victory, the Rams for the third consecutive season advance to the second round, where they will face off against the No. 6-seeded Washington Huskies (24-5) Friday night. The Huskies beat Northern Colorado, 3-1, to earn a chance to play for a trip to the Sweet 16 in Minneapolis. The match is set to begin at 7 p.m. MT from Moby Arena.

"I'm looking forward to tomorrow and playing Washington," added Minch. "They're a team that you always talk about and hear about how good they are, so it's going to be a lot of fun to play them."

Said Hilbert of the challenge facing the Rams in Round 2: "We wanted to win this; I want to win tomorrow . . . That's why you do this. That's why you play the game, that's why you coach."