The Colorado State women’s volleyball program has become synonymous with consistent winning under the guidance and tutelage of Head Coach Tom Hilbert, who begins his 18th season with the Rams in 2014 and his 26th overall as a collegiate head coach.
With nine Mountain West Coach of the Year awards to his credit in the league’s 15-year history, it is clear why Hilbert’s program has risen to the top of the league and has become a stalwart on the national stage as a perennial top-25 team.
Under Hilbert, who was inducted into the CSU Athletics Hall of Fame as the Hall of Honor recipient in 2006, the Rams have developed into one of the top programs in the nation, qualifying for the NCAA tournament all 17 seasons. Overall, CSU has played in 19 straight tournaments dating back to 1995, which ranks seventh nationally among active streaks. The stretch also includes five Sweet 16 appearances and 13 first-round victories.
Hilbert ranks 10th among active Division I head coaches (15th all-time) in winning percentage (.773), and 17th in total wins (605). Of those ranked in the top 20 for wins, Hilbert has coached the fewest total matches, owning a career record of 605-178. With the Rams’ win vs. Nevada on Nov. 9, 2013, Hilbert became just the 10th coach in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball history to record at least 600 victories and a career winning percentage above .770.
On Nov. 4, 2010, he became the winningest coach in any sport in CSU history, earning a victory over UNLV, his 353rd in Fort Collins. The win surpassed former men’s basketball coach Jim Williams’ mark of 352 victories. A year prior, Hilbert eclipsed the 500-win mark for his career. At the time, he was one of just two active coaches with more than 500 victories and fewer than 22 years of head coaching experience. Also in 2009, the veteran coach earned his 300th career win at CSU, moving ahead of his predecessor, Rich Feller, who won 299 matches from 1983-96.
The Rams won a fifth consecutive Mountain West championship in 2013, also earning titles in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Hawai’i is the only other team in the NCAA to win its conference title in each of the past five seasons. In all, Hilbert has orchestrated 11 regular-season MW titles in 15 years, also adding five conference tournament championships in nine opportunities. The 16 total titles is more than all other MW teams — past and present — combined. CSU is 198-32 in MW action under Hilbert, never finishing lower than third. What’s more, in 1998, CSU’s final season in the WAC, the Rams won the Mountain Division. Of those who have played four seasons for the Rams under Hilbert, each one has won at least two conference titles, with all but three winning three or more.
While at CSU, Hilbert has coached eight players who have earned AVCA All-America selections, including three in the past three years. On four occasions, a Ram has been named a Volleyball Magazine All-American, and 24 times one of Hilbert’s players has been named All-America Honorable Mention by either the AVCA or Volleyball Magazine. Under Hilbert, CSU has also earned 10 MW Player-of-the-Year awards in the league’s 15-year history, and a total of 68 all-conference selections. In addition to 14 total conference coach-of-the-year awards — most recently in 2013 — Hilbert was named the 2013 AVCA Pacific North Region Coach of the Year, his second regional honor in the past three seasons and fifth of his career. He was recognized in December at the NCAA Final Four in Seattle, Wash.
Hilbert has led his teams to 20 or more wins every season since 1992, a span of 22 straight years, including the final five at Idaho and first 17 at Colorado State.
Expected to be a rebuilding year after graduating four senior starters, the 2013 Rams rewrote the CSU and Mountain West record books, winning 27 consecutive matches, starting the season 27-0 and finishing the season with a .933 winning percentage — a program record.
Hilbert has also turned CSU’s home court, Moby Arena, into one of the most effective in the nation, compiling a 240-29 (.892) all-time home record. The Rams are 25-12 at Moby against ranked opponents, most recently defeating No. 12 Pepperdine (2012) and No. 5 Nebraska (2011). Hilbert has 40 total wins against ranked teams, including upsetting No. 1 UCLA in 2000.
With big wins come big crowds. The CSU faithful continuously rank in the top 15 nationally for annual attendance figures, even breaking into the top 10 on several occasions. The Rams ranked seventh in the NCAA in 2013, and with four crowds larger than 4,000 on the season, set a program record with 3,283 fans per match. In 2011, a Mountain West record 6,750 fans witnessed the Rams come from behind to defeat No. 5 Nebraska. Just two schools had larger single-match crowds that year. Between Sept. 18, 1998 and Nov. 18, 2000, CSU rattled off 44 consecutive home wins, a Moby Arena record. More recently, CSU has strung together streaks of 21 (2007-08 and 2012-13), 20 (2000-02) and 16 (2011-12).
CSU has been ranked in the AVCA top-25 poll more frequently than all but 14 Division I teams, with many of those rankings coming under Hilbert. In fact, Hilbert led CSU to its highest-ever ranking — No. 3 for five weeks in 2000. On two occasions (2000, 2001), CSU has finished the year ranked in the top 10, and between Sept. 1, 1999 and Sept. 23, 2002, CSU was ranked 51 consecutive weeks.
Away from the court, Hilbert’s teams have set the tone academically. During his tenure, two players have earned Academic All-America honors — Angela Knopf in 2000 and 2001 and Dana Cranston in 2012. Additionally, the Rams have earned 85 academic all-conference nods under Hilbert’s guidance, including 43 over the past five seasons. His team’s cumulative GPA in 2012-13 was 3.28.
Before coming to CSU, Hilbert accumulated a 174-72 (.707) record at Idaho — which remains the most wins by a coach in Idaho history. He helped the Vandals to the Big West Eastern Division title in 1996, and in the Big Sky, his teams won either the regular season or tournament championship every year from 1992-95. In each of those seasons, Hilbert’s Vandals played in the NCAA tournament — posting first-round wins in 1993 and 1994 — and Hilbert was named the Big Sky Coach of the Year. In his first season in Moscow, the Vandals went 15-14, a drastic improvement from the program’s combined 16-41 mark from the two prior seasons. Just five years later, in 1994, Idaho recorded a program-record 31 victories (31-3). Hilbert coached the Big Sky’s first All-American in Mindy Rice. He also guided Idaho to its first national ranking — the first-ever ranking by a Big Sky team. In addition to Rice, Hilbert tutored nine AVCA All-Region selections, four Big Sky MVPs and 20 all-conference recipients.
Prior to Idaho, Hilbert spent five seasons as an assistant at his alma mater, Oklahoma, from 1984-88. The Sooners went 115-56 (.673) in Hilbert’s five seasons in Norman, including two trips to the NCAA tournament and an appearance in the 1988 Elite Eight.
Away from the college game, Hilbert has coached several international trips through Bring It Promotions, including winning the Global Challenge in 2009 in Croatia and coaching a USA Select Team in Argentina in 2005.
A native of Norman, Okla., Hilbert earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing in 1984 from OU. In 1993, he received a master’s degree, in sports and recreation management from Idaho. Hilbert has resided in Fort Collins since 1997 with his daughter, Myles, who turns 14 in September.