Tonight is likely the final time fans will get to watch the Colorado Mesa volleyball team's vaunted middle attack at Brownson Arena.
Camille Smith and Kasie Gilfert have been the most dominant pair of middle blockers — in their case, middle hitters — in the RMAC the past two seasons. The returning All-Americans have combined for 1,288 kills the past two seasons, including 603 this year, nearly half of CMU's total.
They, along with senior outside hitter Katie Scherr and senior setter Sam Ritter, will be honored before the match.
Gilfert is a junior, but she's graduating in May and has decided to forgo her final year of eligibility. She's getting married next fall and has dealt with a shoulder injury since transferring from Northern Arizona. On Thursday, Gilfert was selected to the Academic All-District first team, with a 3.79 GPA in liberal arts.
Senior week always hits athletes hard, no matter how much they think they're prepared.
"I feel like it's finally starting to hit, like 'whoa,' '' said Scherr, who has 180 kills this season. "But it's also the exciting time of the season, so I'm excited to leave everything on the court."
Ritter, too, said the end of the season came quicker than expected.
"It's definitely weird. I feel like it's any other game and then I realize, 'Oh my gosh, it could be my last home game ever,' so playing for each other, playing for your team, school, community. They've been with us through it all. Just leave it all on the court. I don't want to have any regrets, I just want to go for it."
There's still a sliver of a chance the Mavericks can have one more home match on Tuesday in the first round of the RMAC tournament. They have to beat Western and CU-Colorado Springs would have to beat Colorado Mines. The Mountain Lions could still claim the final tournament berth, but are currently ninth.
The Mavericks (16-9, 12-5 RMAC), are concentrating on Western first, but are confident whether they're playing at home or on the road.
Tonight is only the ninth match at Brownson Arena this season, where they've lost only once, a five-setter to Mines.
"We always say protect our house," said Ritter, who has 458 assists this season and is only 13 away from 2,000 for her career. "I feel like when we're at home, we want to win, show everybody what we've got and when we travel … it was a long traveling season. It's just nice to be home, play in front of people you know, you love and who appreciate you. It's been really fun."
With five weekends in November this season, the Mavericks can take advantage of an open spot in most team's schedules and host the Colorado Mesa Open on Saturday at Brownson Arena.
It'll be a busy day, with the open running most of the morning and afternoon, and then the Mavs and Chadron State opening RMAC competition with a dual at 6 p.m.
The No. 1 wrestlers in each weight class will wrestle the dual, most making their season debuts, with younger wrestlers and those who are redshirting participating in the open.
Sophomore Daniel Van Hoose will be in the dual lineup at 149 pounds and has noticed the improvement the Mavericks have made since the start of practice because of the quality depth on the roster.
"It gets you wrestling in different ways and doing different things and ultimately pushes you harder just seeing different faces," he said.
"Last year we had a limited roster and you might have only live-wrestled three or four guys and now all of a sudden you could wrestle eight different guys around your weight and it definitely keeps you on your toes and makes you a better wrestler and working harder."
The Mavericks set up a training course that mirrors the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships course they'll face Saturday in Tempe, Arizona, looking for every advantage.
CMU was second last year at nationals and after winning the West Regional and placing third in the tough East Regional, the Mavericks are among the teams in title contention.
"We've done the training and put in the time, so I think physically we're definitely ready," sophomore Hannah Croasdell said. "It's just mentally on race day, you can get kind of shaken up, so it's just overcoming that. Once you're racing, especially for our team, everyone becomes a different person when they're racing and the nerves just go away."
The sprint triathlon begins with a 750-meter swim, then a transition to a 20-kilometer bike race and then to a 5K run. In triathlon, it's all about the transition from one discipline to the next to optimize their time.
Freshman Mazzy Jackson won the West Region title and was third in the East Region, with another freshman, Abba White, the runner-up in the West. Croasdell, a sophomore, was eighth in last year's national championship.
White has the perfect description of their sport.
"I think that's the beauty and the pain of triathlon a little bit," she said, "to be really adaptable on race day, to change at any given moment.
"One day you're having a really good swim and the next you're in the back of the pack and you're like, 'What happened?' You just have to go with it and change up your strategy sometimes."