Before Adrianna Culbert came to Colorado State, the Rams and head coach Tom Hilbert had won the Mountain West conference volleyball title three years in a row. They’d been to the NCAA Tournament 17 consecutive years, winning more than 20 games in each of those seasons. Under Hilbert, the Rams had averaged almost 26 wins per season for 15 of those years.
So when Culbert, a lightly-recruited, 5-foot 10-inch sparkplug from Delton, Mich. accepted a scholarship to come to Fort Collins, it was not so that she could be any sort of savior. The program was far from broken, and didn’t need fixing. Hilbert just wanted to keep things moving in the same positive and productive direction. Culbert would likely fit into that progression.
Instead, he got much much more. Over the course of the next four years, Culbert changed the way Hilbert and his staff approached the game. They molded their game plans and their offensive attack so they could take advantage of Culbert’s unusual and amazing skill set… and kept on winning.
“In terms of all-around volleyball players, she’s one of the three best we’ve ever had,” Hilbert said, acknowledging former Ram greats Angela Knopf and Soraya Santos. “She does every skill in the whole game really well. She’s been able to fill a lot of different roles for us as she’s grown up. She isn’t one of these kids that’s physically dominant; that’s one of the reasons we were able to recruit her here. But she is a kid that is a really good volleyball player, and those kids can help any team in some way.”
This season, Culbert was selected Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, the seventh consecutive CSU player to win the award. She was one of five Rams to earn all-conference honors and her unanimous selection as PoY was the first in the conference since Katelyn Steffan of CSU did so in 2011.
Coaches around the league did see this coming. Culbert was voted the conference preseason Player of the Year in August, and she did not disappoint. Yet, she wasn’t selected for dominating play in one particular area. Instead, it was her amazing all-around play that earned her the postseason award, along with seeing her name on a few All-American teams. During her senior year, Culbert played all six rotations, splitting time between setting and hitting. She posted eight triple-doubles, setting new school and conference career records along the way. She added the first quadruple-double in NCAA volleyball in five years, registering 10 kills, 20 assists, 13 digs and 11 blocks against San Jose State. She was named ESPNW National Player of the Week and twice American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Week for her efforts. Along the way she’s also been named Academic All-MW and a Mountain West “Scholar Athlete” for three straight years.
During her time in Fort Collins, Culbert ended up leading the Rams to four more Mountain West titles, four more 20-plus win seasons, and four more trips to the NCAA tournament. That makes seven straight conference titles and 21 straight trips to the NCAAs for the Rams. Culbert departs the program with school and conference career and single-season records for triple-doubles.
This season didn’t end the way the Rams expected it to. They were upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Loyola Marymount, finishing the season 26-4, unbeaten in the Mountain West at 18-0. Now Hilbert and his team are faced with moving forward without their game changer.
“She’s been incredible,” Hilbert reflected. “As I explained to everyone at senior night, after the 2012 year we lost four seniors who had been a part of that ‘era’ and everyone said this was the end of an era. Now, ‘Dree Culbert’s group [including fellow seniors Alex Reid and Jaime Colassi] was an era of their own, and her contributions, and her ability to be a weapon in so many different ways really changed our program.”
Culbert will have to move on without CSU as well, but Hilbert thinks she’ll keep playing.
“I know that she wants to play some beach volleyball, and I think she wants to play overseas. I don’t think she’s done playing. Whether it’s as a setter or in beach doubles or whatever, she’ll continue to play because I can’t imagine her life without volleyball.”