UPDATE, 9:30 a.m. Dec. 2: Tournament organizers announced Wednesday night time change for the Friday match between Thursday's winners, moving it from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Colorado State’s volleyball season isn’t over yet.
Although the Rams were eliminated from contention for a berth in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday after losing a semifinal match in the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas, they’ll play on this week in the National Invitational Volleyball Championships.
CSU (18-10) was selected Sunday night as a host site for first- and second-round matches Thursday and Friday at Moby Arena. Tulsa (14-15) and UTEP (21-7) will play in the first match at 5 p.m. Thursday, with CSU facing Houston Baptist (21-8) in the second match. The winners will meet in a second-round match at 7 p.m. Friday.
Winners of second-round matches will advance to the quarterfinals Dec. 6-8. Semifinals are set for Dec. 8-11 with the championship match Dec. 12-14.
The 31-team tournament, last played in 2018, gives good teams that didn’t make the NCAA’s 64-team field a chance to keep playing in the postseason.
“Any time a program with the reputation and history of Colorado State accepts a bid to the NIVC, it’s an important signal to the rest of Division I volleyball that the event has value,” said NIVC director Jared Rudiger, the former volleyball coach at Fort Collins High School. “That roster has quite a bit of youth on it, so for them to experience win-or-go-home postseason pressure can pay off major dividends down the road. Plus, CSU will be one of our eight hosts in Round 1, and we know the community will be glad to see the Rams play again.”
Arkansas (19-10) received a first-round bye in the NIVC.
Other hosts of first- and second-round NIVC matches are Stephen F. Austin (18-9), Arizona (16-15), Weber State (20-9), Chicago State (17-10), Valparaiso (22-9), Troy (17-12) and Boston College (16-16).
The NIVC is exactly what the Rams, who had a string of 25 straight NCAA Tournament appearances snapped last spring during the delayed 2020 season, need right now, longtime coach Tom Hilbert said Sunday.
“If you look at the experience level of our team and how many players we return, I think anything like this is good for us,” Hilbert said. “The players were disappointed, obviously, in the Mountain West Tournament, but they’ll be ready to go on this, and I think they’ll be excited to do it.”
Hilbert, now in his 25th season at CSU and 32nd as a college head coach, has never taken a team to a postseason tournament other than the NCAA.
But he knows any postseason experience is better than none for a relatively young squad that has struggled to consistently play at as high a level as it is capable of this season. And he saw the benefits of the CSU men’s basketball team’s deep run to the final four of last year’s NIT.
The Rams expect to return all but two players off this year’s team — libero Alexa Roumeliotis and defensive specialist Alyssa Bert — next fall. Leading hitter Kennedy Stanford is just a sophomore, as is starting middle blocker Karina Leber. The other three starters — setter Ciera Pritchard, outside hitter Annie Sullivan and right-side hitter Sasha Colombo — each have at least one more season of eligibility remaining.
"It’ll be energetic and fresh for us, so it’s like a real postseason experience,” Hilbert said. “We need to get that with this group, because we’d like to go out, obviously, and win the Mountain West next year.
“I don’t think this is something that we’d want to play in every year with every team, but this year is perfect for it.”
CSU won a share of the Mountain West’s regular-season title for the 17th time in the conference’s 25 seasons this fall but lost its only match in the conference tournament — to host UNLV in the semifinals — after receiving a first-round bye.
Boise State, the lowest seed of the six that qualified for the MW Tournament, beat No. 4 seed UNLV in the championship match Friday to earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Broncos (24-10) open play at BYU, the No. 11 seed, in a four-team grouping for the first two rounds that also includes Utah and Utah Valley.
Kelly Lyell reports on CSU, high school and other local sports and topics of interest for the Coloradoan. Contact him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter @KellyLyell and find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KellyLyell.news. If you 're a subscriber, thank you for your support. If not, please consider purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Colorado State's volleyball team will host NIVC matches this week