A gift for everyone…

by Tony Phifer on December 22, 2010

Making a CSU list and checking it twice:

For football coach Steve Fairchild: Eight (at least) wins in 2011.

For men’s basketball coach Tim Miles: A cha-cha in the Big Dance.

For women’s basketball coach Kristen Holt: The next Becky Hammon in her 2011 recruiting class.

For cross-country coach Bryan Berryhill: The next Bryan Berryhill in his 2011 recruiting class.    

For Tom Hilbert: Recognition outside Fort Collins of how great his program has become.

For athletic director Paul Kowalczyk: Years of good health.

For men’s golf coach Jamie Bermel: A repeat of the 2010 MWC title.

For women’s coach Angie Hopkins: A team filled with big hitters who can also chip and putt.

For track coach Brian Bedard: A real, live indoor facility.

For tennis coach Jon Messick: One bonafide superstar to help take his program to the next level.

For swimming/polo coach John Mattos: A nap. The man has been at it for 25-plus years and is still going strong.

For new softball coach Jen Fisher: A schedule filled with lots of home games on warm days.

For CSU: A commitment to excellence (and participation) from its fans.

For CSU fans: A decade of unprecedented success.

And for all Rams everywhere: A Merry, Merry Christmas and prosperous New Year!

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Ready to go Downtown with newest Ram

by Tony Phifer on December 18, 2010

Tidying up a couple of loose ends…

I am VERY excited now that running back Dorian Brown has decided to enroll at CSU starting in January. This is the first true blue-chip Colorado prospect that coach Steve Fairchild has landed in his three-plus years, and I honestly believe Brown could end up being a great player at CSU.

It’s hard to imagine anyone being more valuable to his high school team than the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Brown. Loveland’s Thompson Valley High School is, to be kind, awful in football, and Brown was a stud despite playing on a team lacking talent at pretty much every position. He rushed for 1,563 yards as a sophomore and 1,975 as a junior when EVERYONE in the stadium knew he was getting the ball, over and over again.

Utilizing his size and speed (4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash), Brown somehow managed to average 10 yards each time he carried the ball. Remarkable.

The thing I most admire about Brown, however, is his attitude. It would have been very easy for him to transfer to a school that has more tradition and a better chance of winning. Really talented kids in Loveland (and even a couple from Fort Collins) always seem to end up at Loveland High School, but Brown chose to stick it out at Thompson Valley despite playing on a team that went 0-10 his junior season. The fact that his senior season ended before it ever got started due to a torn ACL just seems like cruel and unusual punishment for a kid who had shown great character in hanging with his teammates through thick and thicker.

I doubt Brown will play next year – a redshirt season would give him more time to rehabilitate his knee – but I am excited to see this guy in Green and Gold, whenever that day arrives. And with his big-play ability, I’ve already got his new nickname: “Downtown Dorian Brown.”

Congrats to former CSU volleyball coach Rich Feller, who this week was named national coach of the year.

Feller, a good guy and a terrific coach, is the man responsible for putting CSU volleyball on the map and setting the stage for the success the program has enjoyed under current coach Tom Hilbert, the man who replaced him. Feller won 299 games at CSU before landing the job at Cal, where he won the school’s first Pac-10 title this season.

The Bears will play Penn State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday for the national championship. The match will be televised by ESPN2.

ADD VOLLEYBALL – Stanford, which knocked CSU out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round, made it to the Regional final before falling to Pac-10 rival Southern Cal in an epic five-set match that went 16-14 in the final set. Four Pac-10 teams reached the final eight – a remarkable feat, even for the nation’s top volleyball league.

Meanwhile, Duke – a team CSU beat in Moby Arena in front of a record crowd – reached the final eight before losing to Penn State, while top-seeded Florida – which beat CSU in Gainesville – was eliminated in the regional semifinals by Purdue.  

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Win over KU would have been great, but…

by Tony Phifer on December 13, 2010

Every now and then, opportunity coincides with performance in college athletics, creating memorable outcomes that can change the face of programs.

In 1994, for example, Colorado State played at fourth-ranked Arizona in football, and pulled off a stunning upset that set the stage for a decade of unprecedented success under former coach Sonny Lubick. The game wasn’t really even supposed to happen – both Arizona and CSU just happened to have schedule openings that season, and a deal to play was struck very late in the process – but Lubick’s up-and-coming team was perfectly poised for a breakout effort.

In 2003, the CSU men’s basketball team hadn’t done much during the regular season but seemed to be peaking heading into the Mountain West Conference Tournament. The Rams got a favorable draw as the No. 6 seed and rode the shoulders of emerging sophomore center Matt Nelson to a series of huge upsets to win the tournament and secure the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 13 years.

Saturday, the Rams were matched against No. 4 Kansas with an opportunity to secure the basketball program’s biggest win since 2003. The Rams are a veteran team, and Kansas – while incredibly talented – is young. And the game was being played in Kansas City – still a Jayhawks hotbed but not nearly as intimidating as KU’s historic Allen Fieldhouse.

Yes, opportunity had a chance to meet performance…but performance apparently missed the exit ramp off I-70. The Rams played well in stretches and were in good position early in the second half, but faltered after that en route to a 76-55 loss.

The loss was part of a disappointing week for CSU hoops. The men’s team suffered a disheartening overtime loss to Colorado, and the women’s team lost at CU and Arizona State. The swimming team crushed Northern Colorado, but that was pretty much the only bright spot for the Rams.

Men’s basketball – the Rams shot just 28.3 percent from the field vs. Kansas and were outrebounded 53-30 – a REALLY bad combination against anyone, let alone the No. 4 team in the nation. But it wasn’t until a 12-0 KU run early in the second half that the Rams (4-3) lost contact with the Jayhawks, and they never really threatened after that. Andy Ogide led the Rams with 12 points, while Travis Franklin and guard Dorian Greene, who grew up in Lawrence, Kan., cheering for the Jayhawks, added 10 each.

Next up – The Rams have a quiet week during final exams before hosting UNC at 7 p.m. Dec. 20.

Women’s basketball – The Rams, who never really got started against CU earlier in the week, put together a better effort at Arizona State but still fell 72-53 to the talented Sun Devils. The Rams (5-4) got 19 points from junior Kim Mestdagh and 17 from freshman Sam Martin but suffered 23 turnovers.

Next up – CSU get the week off for finals before hosting South Dakota at 2 p.m. Dec. 20. That game will mark the CSU debut of junior forward Kelly Hartig, a transfer from Virginia who should provide immediate help inside.

Swimming – The Rams crushed UNC 193-106 on Saturday at Moby Pool, winning 13 of the 14 events. Fran Mathias won both the 100- and 200-yard butterfly events to lead the Rams (3-6), who earned their first win since Oct. 23.

Next up – CSU gets a long break before returning to action at 2 p.m. Jan. 15 at Moby to face Brigham Young.

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Minch, Ploudre make their mark

by Tony Phifer on December 9, 2010

Cleaning up some loose details as the Rams prepare to head to Boulder for a showdown with the Buffs:

CSU volleyball players Danielle Minch and Megan Plourde capped their stellar seasons Tuesday when they were named to the all-West Region team for the second consecutive year. Minch, a senior outside hitter, was the two-time Mountain West Conference player of the year and one of the great hitters in recent CSU history. Plourde, a sophomore middle blocker, was all-MWC for the second time and finished second in the nation with 1.62 blocks per set.

While the Rams will greatly miss Minch and fellow seniors Jacque Davisson, Audrey Hemmings and Emily Koenning, coach Tom Hilbert and his program will not take a significant dip. Led by Plourde and all-MWC setter Evan Sanders, the Rams likely will be favored to once again win the MWC title and make their 17th consecutive NCAA appearance.

Florida’s Urban Meyer resigned Wednesday, sending shockwaves through the college football world. However, after he tried to quit last year, only be be talked into returning, this hardly comes as a surprise.

Meyer, who won two national championships with the Gators, is probably the most successful coach to ever don CSU’s green and gold. Meyer was a Rams assistant for several years, first with Earle Bruce and later with Sonny Lubick, before departing for an assistant’s job at Notre Dame. Eventually he landed a head coaching gig at Bowling Green, then Utah and then Florida. His winning percentage (.817) is tops among active coaches with at least 100 games.

The charismatic Meyer was one my all-time favorite assistants at CSU. He was fiery and competitive, but he was also funny and approachable – a true player’s coach. He was also a terrific recruiter and was responsible for landing, among others, Joey Porter, who became one of the best players in CSU history.

Above all else, Meyer is a family guy. He has a great wife, Shelley, and three terrific kids, and he probably figures it’s time to dedicate some much-needed dad and husband attention to them.

And finally, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams head to Boulder tonight to take on Colorado in the biggest games of the season for both squads. For the women, it’s a chance to add to a five-game winning streak and take down a quality opponent. For the men, it’s a huge opportunity for the signature win that has eluded fourth-year coach Tim Miles. If the Rams can pull off a win over a talented CU squad, on the road, we might finally see some genuine excitement in a fan base that has had little to cheer about for most of the past decade.

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Volleyball season ends, but not without a fight

by Tony Phifer on December 7, 2010

Putting the wraps on a weekend worth smiling about:

Volleyball – In our bottom-line world, it’s important to note right off the top that the season is over. The Rams’ glorious run through the 2010 campaign ended Saturday night in a three-game loss to second-ranked (and host) Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Rams fought valiantly in the opening set, losing 28-26, before succumbing 25-13, 25-15 in the final two sets.

Prior to that, however, came a performance that has to stand as one of the more memorable in recent CSU athletics history. The 17th-ranked Rams, playing No. 24 Cal State Fullerton in the first round of the NCAAs, fell behind 2-0 after the first two sets and looked to be finished. The Titans, who CSU-Stanford piccame into the tournament with a veteran squad that had dominated its competition over the past month, looked invincible in the first two games. No matter what the Rams tried, Fullerton seemed to have the right answer.

After a 10-minute intermission, however, the Rams simply took over, rolling to a 19-25, 20-25, 25-12, 25-21, 15-12 win. It was CSU’s first rally from a 2-0 deficit in four years, and it was a thing of beauty as pretty much every Ram contributed to the historic comeback. The star of the show, however, was sophomore middle blocker Megan Plourde, who put together a performance for the ages with a school-record 19 blocks and a career-best 20 kills.

The loss to Stanford ended the careers of seniors Danielle Minch, Jacque Davisson, Audrey Hemmings and Emily Koenning.

Men’s basketball  The Rams avenged a humiliating 23-point loss at Fresno State last year by beating the Bulldogs 87-74 on Saturday to improve to 4-1 – their best start under fourth-year coach Tim Miles. Andy Ogide, who is third in the Mountain West Conference in scoring (17.6) and rebounding (8.2) had his ninth career double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Rams. Ogide, a senior forward/center, is leading the MWC in field-goal percentage, making 70.4 percent of his shots.

Next up – The Rams face their biggest test of the season at 8 p.m. Wednesday when they take on rival Colorado (4-3) at Coors Events Center in Boulder. The Rams beat the Buffs last year in Fort Collins, and this year’s game figures to be a great battle  with both schools fielding talented, veteran squads. The game is part of a women’s-men’s doubleheader, with the CSU women (5-2) taking on the CU women (6-2) at 5:30 p.m.