BOISE, Idaho--It isn't as if the Boise State volleyball team has never hosted a nationally-ranked team before. The Broncos have done so several times, such as when nationally-ranked Washington came to town, or when Boise State hosted highly-regarded Hawai'i in the days of the Western Athletic Conference.
(BroncoCountry video by Doc Barnes)
The difference this time is the Lady Broncos have a realistic chance to win. From what coach Shawn Garus is building in Boise, one gets the feeling that if Boise State does not emerge with a win tonight, they'll nab a win over a ranked team before long.
Tonight, 20th-ranked Colorado State enters Bronco Gym riding an undefeated 8-0 record in the Mountain West Conference and sporting a sparkling 15-3 overall mark. Given that the last time these two teams met, it went to five sets before the Rams squeaked it out in Fort Collins; tonight's encounter has the possibility of being a thriller for Bronco fans. The local volleyball community is well aware of it, and is excited to see great college volleyball.
But what does the match mean for the thousands of football and volleyball fans? Why should they get excited about the Bronco volleyball team? Garus has laid the building blocks for an outstanding team. Setter Sarah Baugh has been stellar in her career, amongst the all-time leaders at Boise State in career assists. What Garus has done, bringing middle blocker Kaitlin Oliver into the fold in the 2013 recruiting class (Oliver redshirted her first year) and then outside hitter Sierra Nobley and libero Maddi Osburn into the mix last year, is give Baugh a variety of options to choose from when she distributes the ball.
As Garus said, "Once new fans come to a Bronco volleyball match, and see what this team has to offer, they'll be hooked."
The setter in many ways is like a quarterback in football or a point guard in basketball. Baugh surveys the defense and determines where they are vulnerable, then sets the ball accordingly, giving her team the best chance for a point. She is far and away the #1 assists leader in the conference, averaging 12.18 assists per set. Since the winning team usually obtains 25 points in a set, that means Baugh is assisting on nearly half of the Broncos' points this season.
(BroncoCountry video by Doc Barnes)
Sarah does numerous other things for Boise State besides setting. She is eighth in the conference in service aces, she can block shots, she can go dig the ball off the court to keep it alive, and she keeps the opposition guessing with quick flicks across the net when they are least expecting it, not to mention the invaluable senior leadership she provides. To a person, the Bronco team praises Baugh for her setting ability and says that Sarah holds them accountable and makes them better players.
Baugh earned All-Mountain West honors last season, but she is far from the only star on the Bronco team. Junior Maddy O'Donnell is a great all-around talent at middle blocker. O'Donnell is an intelligent player who can spot what the opposing team is doing and be able to adjust her shot to find an open area. Maddy's hitting percentage (kills minus errors divided by total attacks) of 37.2% last year is the fourth-highest in school history, while her blocks per set last year (1.08) ranks sixth all-time at Boise State. O'Donnell has picked up right where she left off, averaging 34.7% this season. She has also become a reliable server and can dig the ball off the court as well.
(BroncoCountry video by Doc Barnes)
The future for sophomore outside hitter Sierra Nobley is bright--opponents so fear Nobley that they try to hit the ball to her in an effort to take her out of the Bronco offense, as O'Donnell describes in the video above. She is one of the most powerful hitters in the conference, leading the Mountain West in kills and points, and Nobley also has moved into the Top 10 in the conference in service aces and has posted double-digit digs in matches this season.
At 6'4", sophomore Kaitlin Oliver is an imposing force. If she were the only threat at the net, the opposition could just work around her, but they also have Nobley, O'Donnell and senior Katelyn Kinghorn to contend with. As coach Garus says, "They have to pick their poison. If they don't want Nobley to beat them, then O'Donnell will. If they stay away from O'Donnell, Oliver will beat them."
Boise State and Colorado State are 1-2 in most offensive statistics in the conference. The edge that the Rams have had is in defense, something that Garus has stressed all season to his team. If the Broncos are to stay with Colorado State tonight, they will have to do it with defense, emulating the Rams' superb combination of serves, blocks and digs. That strategy seems tailor-made for the talented Oliver, named Mountain West Newcomer of the Year last season.
Oliver not only skies high above the net for blocks; she has perfected her game to be able to up high for the kill and keep it in bounds. She has made just 38 errors in 370 attack attempts this year and is sandwiched between two Ram players, Acacia Andrews and Adrianna Culbert, in second place in the conference in hitting percentage (42.2%). If Oliver were to continue her torrid pace, she would smash the school record of 37.8% set two years ago by Brittany Reardon.
Kinghorn is a great competitor who, like Baugh, wants to go out with a special season. Katelyn gives the Broncos another gamer at outside hitter (her kill was the winning shot in Boise State's marathon win over San Diego State last Saturday.) She too is a versatile player who can block shots, pass and dig for the Broncos.
Garus also has increasingly brought true freshman Sabryn Roberts into the lineup, and the 5'9" Roberts has become one of Boise State's most reliable scorers. Roberts now ranks third on the Broncos with 167 kills and third with 2.93 points per set.
Exciting sophomore libero Maddi Osburn, from nearby Vallivue High School in Nampa, is praised by Garus for her athleticism. Osburn flies all over the court keeping balls from hitting the floor and getting them to her teammates to keep rallies alive. Osburn ranks third in the Mountain West with 4.43 digs per set.
Junior Hannah Hubbard is a specialist who brings the team another great digger and passer, and will often substitute in to serve--she is third on the team with 17 service aces.
Freshman Phoebe Bell, who at 6'5" is the tallest Bronco volleyball player in program history, is another budding talent that Boise State fans will be hearing more about, another versatile talent that Garus has recruited.
The Broncos know they have a dangerous opponent in the Rams. CSU features a trio of threats, Andrews, Culbert and Alexandra Poletto, all ranked in the Top 10 in hitting percentage. That lineup makes it impossible to focus on any one of the three, and combined, they represent a menacing attack force.
Culbert was the preseason Mountain West Player of the Year. In addition to ranking third in the conference in hitting percentage (36.1%), Culbert is fifth in the Mountain West in service aces (.32 per set) and eighth in points per set (3.62).
Alex Reid is perhaps the Rams' most powerful spiker (3.31 kills per set), fourth in the conference. Andrews (1.41 blocks per set, third in the Mountain West) and Poletto (eighth with an even one block per set) are a formidable combination, and represent the advantage that Colorado State has over the Broncos. Crystal Young is CSU's setter, with 6.31 assists per set, while libero Jaime Colaizzi ranks sixth in the MW with 4.12 digs per set.
The Mountain West statistical leaders are presented below, which shows all of the things that Boise State and Colorado State do well. Defense will be the key, as it often is in any sport.
The clash between CSU and the Broncos gets underway at 7 tonight in Bronco Gym (south of Taco Bell Arena). The match is a "Blackout" with fans encouraged to wear black. The first 300 fans inside the door get free sunglasses as part of the promotion. But the real attraction is seeing two of the top 50 volleyball teams in the nation go at it.
Conference Team Leaders
|9.||San Jose State||80||993||502||2755||.178|
|10.||San Diego State||73||910||482||2553||.168|
|Opponent Hitting Pct.||S||K||E||TA||Pct.|
|4.||San Jose State||80||859||407||2593||.174|
|11.||San Diego State||73||927||328||2442||.245|
|6.||San Jose State||80||916||11.45|
|8.||San Diego State||73||824||11.29|
|6.||San Diego State||73||910||12.47|
|7.||San Jose State||80||993||12.41|
|9.||San Diego State||73||21||233||137.5||1.88|
|10.||San Jose State||80||30||234||147.0||1.84|
|2.||San Jose State||80||114||1.42|
|8.||San Diego State||73||87||1.19|
|4.||San Jose State||80||1157||14.46|
|9.||San Diego State||73||1000||13.70|
|San Diego State||7-2224||318||10-10396||1040||4-333||83||21-12953||617|
|San Jose State||8-2168||271||7-3626||518||6-564||94||21-6358||303|
Conference Individual Leaders
(Players listed below have played in at least 50.00 percent of their team's games.)