Mavericks to be tested early in RMAC tourney

No fear, no pressure.

That’s the mind-set the Colorado Mesa University volleyball team is taking when the Mavericks play top-seeded and 12th-ranked Colorado School of Mines at 7 tonight in the first round of the RMAC volleyball tournament in Golden.

“(Megan) Rush mentioned on the bus trip home that we were playing really well at the beginning of the year when there weren’t any expectations, and now we don’t have any,” CMU coach Dave Fleming said.

“We’re the eight seed, there are no expectations, no one expects us to win. We’re going to go out and have fun and play well and play without fear and let the chips fall where they may.”

They were certainly loose Monday during an impromptu pickup game as the players were arriving at practice.

“When everybody’s having fun doing what we do every day, everything falls into place and we’re an awesome team,” 6-foot-1 senior middle hitter Rachael Beaty said.

Beaty, who has 34 total blocks this season, has been a key figure as the Mavericks fought to win a spot in the conference tournament. Her block in the middle has helped the Mavericks take opponents out of their system and give momentum to CMU.

They’ll need that against Mines, which features outside hitter Jackie Stabell, the odds-on favorite for RMAC Player of the Year. Stabell averages 3.6 kills per set and last weekend, as the Orediggers were wrapping up the regular-season conference title, Stabell averaged 4.5 kills per set.

Mines also has the favorite for Setter of the Year and Freshman of the Year, Danielle Johnson-Hazelwood, who runs the Orediggers’ show. She averages 11.62 assists per set.

“We need to have a solid block up every time,” Beaty said. “We need to get good touches for our defense to set up behind the block. We don’t necessarily have to get stuff blocks every time, just set up a solid block for our defense.

“If we get stuff blocks, great. If not, we’ve got a great defense behind us.”

The Orediggers (23-5) are on a seven-match winning streak and have won 17 of their past 18. Their last loss was in five sets at Western New Mexico, where the Mavericks won in four sets two weeks ago.

Mines has won 17 matches in straight sets this season, including against the Mavericks last month at Brownson Arena.

“This time we go into it knowing what they’re capable of and knowing what we need to do and take care of on our side of the net,” Beaty said. “I think we’re better prepared mentally this time because we’ve seen them before and we know we can hang with them.”

Seven CMU serving errors — and no aces to counteract those errors — allowed Mines to set up its offense and let Stabell swing away for 16 kills in a 25-18, 25-21, 25-18 victory.

The loss sent the Mavericks, who were only one match behind the Orediggers for the overall RMAC lead at the time, into a three-week free-fall.

Mesa lost seven straight to plummet in the overall standings from No. 2 to No. 8, but regrouped with a sweep of Fort Lewis, then won three straight on the road. Colorado Mesa (17-10) lost only one set in the final four matches.

Mesa is 10th in the South Central Region rankings and needs to win the RMAC tournament to extend the season. Seven of the top 10 teams in the region are in the RMAC.

“We’ve got the ball rolling in the right direction at least,” Fleming said. “The first game at Highlands we hit .536. That’s an indication of what we can do. Now, Highlands isn’t Colorado Mines, but it’s still volleyball.”

And that’s what the Mavs do, Beaty said.

“I don’t think any of us feel any pressure any more,” she said. “It’s volleyball. We do it every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s Monday afternoon at practice or Friday night (in this case, Tuesday) at 7.

“It’s volleyball. Every day.”


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