MWC volleyball tournament starts tonight

Nearly every year, the Mountain West Conference holds the women’s volleyball tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Just as frequently, Colorado State finds itself in the championship game.

Although nobody can help the fact that the tournament will once again span Turkey Day weekend, the other eight teams in the MWC will do their best to stop the Rams from becoming tournament champs for the fourth time in five years.

Colorado State enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed for the fifth time since 1999, but for the first time since 2003. No matter what their seed, the Rams have been a mainstay in the tournament finale.

This season, Colorado State has been the same pillar atop the conference standings. The Rams breezed through their regular conference schedule with just three losses and swept conference foes three games to none in 12 of their 13 wins. Mekena Barnes leads the charge for the Rams, but she also has a lot of help with outside hitter Jamie Strauss and setter Ashley Forstrom having excellent years, as well.

Although it is not surprising to see Colorado State at the top heading into the conference tournament, the team sitting at the No. 2 seed is a change from the norm of years past.

For the first time since 2003, two teams other than BYU and Utah occupy the top two seeds. This year, UNLV is the other top seed.

The secret to UNLV’s success this year has been frustrating their opponents to the point of combustion.

The Rebels don’t possess outstanding size or an imposing block. But what they lack at the net the Rebels more than make up for on the floor. The Rebels lead the conference in digs per game at 19.88 — an average of three more digs than any other team in the MWC. When players constantly have textbook kills dug, discouragement sets in. It is there that UNLV thrives. The Rebels don’t possess an overwhelming attack, but it is among the most proficient in the conference as they lead the MWC in assists and are second to only Colorado State in kills per game.

Although Colorado State and host UNLV are the clear favorites to earn the MWC’s automatic bid to the NCAA championships, BYU, TCU and Utah will all attempt to stake their claim to a season extension.

BYU has the most well-rounded team, but has managed just a 1-3 record against the top two seeds. The Cougars will rest on the momentum of their seven-game winning streak and the brilliant play of Rachel Dyer, who flew to the top of the hitting percentage list in the last few weeks of the season.

TCU has been the other surprise in women’s volleyball this year. After struggling to a 5-11 record in 2006, the Horned Frogs grabbed a No. 4 seed with a 9-7 turnaround. Like BYU, TCU went just 1-3 against UNLV and Colorado State combined.

The MWC tournament will be held in Las Vegas at the Cox Pavillion, with the first round running tonight and the final being held on Saturday. With the exception of the play-in game between Air Force and San Diego State and the championship game, all matches will be televised on the mtn. network. The championship game will be televised live on CSTV.

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Maegan Burr

The Utes beat UNLV this past Friday at Crimson Court. UNLV is now the second-seed in the MWC Tournament, held at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.