BOULDER- The old saying about how the finish is more important than the start is true.
But it certainly helps to start well.
After sweeping Chicago State Saturday morning, the CSU volleyball team dug themselves into holes in both of the first two sets Saturday night in their 3-1 loss (22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 21-25) to in-state rival No. 18 Colorado in Boulder.
The Rams fell behind in both of the first two sets. In both sets CSU was able to climb their way back into it and make it competitive, but the deficit was just too much as CSU’s seven-game winning streak against the Buffs was snapped in front of 2,446 fans at the Coors Event Center.
“We dug those two six, seven point runs away in both those sets,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “And we still come back and you take away those and we’re better than them in some cases.”
The Rams were led offensively by Kirstie Hillyer who had 12 kills and had seven block assists to go along with two solo blocks. Alexandra Poletto had 11 kills and Sanja Cizmic added 11 as well. Katie Oleksak dished out 41 assists.
Throughout Mountain West conference play and against lesser teams, the Rams can get away with a sluggish set or several unforced errors, but not against a team of the caliber of CU.
“When we’re playing a team in the Mountain West we know we can throw a free ball or a jump ball and still have a good result,” Hilbert said. “But you can’t do that against CU, if you throw a free ball or a jump ball it’s coming back in your face. And we just kept doing it and kept doing it and that has to change if we want to be good against good people.”
After the Buffs jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the first, CSU came back behind superb blocking. The Rams tallied five total blocks in the set, led by Kirstie Hillyer who was in on four of them. The Rams would push it to as close as 22-21 before the Buffs ran off three of the final points to take the set 25-22.
The second set was all CU. The Buffs jumped out to a 13-3 lead and never relinquished it. CSU made it interesting thanks to four kills from Cizmic but were never able to close the gap.
Finally in the third set, the Rams found their stride a bit earlier, taking a 7-5 lead in the early going. Then with CSU leading 23-22, Cizmic buried two consecutive kills to solidify a third set victory for CSU force a fourth set.
CU kept the Rams at arm’s distance throughout the fourth set to seal the win.
When CSU lost to No. 2 Texas on Sept. 9 there was a silver lining in the fact that they had just competed with one of the nation’s elite programs and a possible national championship contender. And against CU, the Rams had their share of opportunities to alter the outcome. But eventually there’s a point for any team where they know they can compete and being close just isn’t enough. CSU is at that point where beating good teams should be the goal.
“That’s good and all, like ‘We almost won. That’s great, we played well’ “senior libero Cassidy Denny said. “It’s still a loss and we could’ve done things better and we could’ve beat them. It’s not like they were completely out of our range and we just killed ourselves. We did kill ourselves but we still could have won. It’s still frustrating but you just take it as a learning experience.”
CSU will open Mountain West play Sept. 22 against Fresno State at home at 7 pm MT.
Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michael_roley