Luckily for the Colorado State Rams, sports are about the way you finish, and after dropping the first two sets at home to the New Mexico Lobos, their 3-2 victory was truly a gritty performance.
The Rams were able to come back and win the match, 23-25, 21-25, 25-16, 25-22, 15-7 despite the team coming out stiff and with a lack of energy.
The first set came with the Rams being out of sync on offense as they were only able to post a .179 hitting percentage. It seemed as if the Lobos were everywhere, digging out many hard strikes and making great diving digs. These plays killed the Rams’ motivation as they looked frustrated and tense.
However, they still led for most of the set despite the offensive woes, but it would come back to get them when the Lobos rallied late and took the lead for the first time at 20-19. A couple of errors by the Lobos gave the Rams life, but it ultimately was not enough.
New Mexico’s Julia Warren would take over the second set as she dominated with seven kills and the Lobos won the set 25-21. The Rams offense was able to improve with a .273 hitting percentage, but the Lobos were still able to reach many shots that the Rams thought to be unreturnable and only pushed the Rams deeper into an emotionless rut.
“I saw them making a lot of, I would say lucky plays like one handed,” said junior Jasmine Hanna about the Lobos digging ability in the first two sets.
A dominate third set would emerge as the Rams got a much needed spark of energy from freshman Paulina Hougaard-Jensen. After a lackluster first two sets for freshman Kirstie Hillyer, coach Tom Hilbert brought in Hougaard-Jensen because she can go into what the team calls “balance,” as described by the coach.
After not playing at all in the first two sets, Hougaard-Jensen came into the game to get two kills and four blocks in the set, including the block that ended the set with a 25-16 advantage for the Rams. After the block, the team erupted with cheers and finally looked relaxed.
“I knew I needed to make a change for the team,” Hougaard-Jensen said. “I just gave it 100 percent and I cheered way more than I usually do just to bring energy in there.”
After Hougaard-Jensen finally brought the Rams to life, junior Sanja Cizmic and Hanna would make sure that their pulse would keep beating. The duo put up four and five kills respectively in the set. Each kill came with louder cheers from the crowd and more exuberant expressions from the team. But the Rams as a whole regressed back to their play from the first couple sets as they hit .188 as a team. Their 17-13 lead turned into a 21-20 deficit after a huge run aided by the Rams miscues on digs put the Lobos on the verge of an upset.
But the Rams defense would take control as they shut the Lobos down with two blocks in the final five points of the fourth set, led by Hougaard-Jensen’s four blocks in the set. They had back to back blocks earlier in the set that brought their total to five for the set and held the Lobos to a .111 hitting percentage.
From then on it was all Rams as they raced out to a 9-5 lead in the fifth set behind Hanna’s three early kills. A New Mexico timeout would do nothing to stem the Rams momentum as they went up 13-6 before closing out the match 15-7 on Hanna’s violent strike to the left side of the court.
Hanna led the Rams in kills with 17 and junior Alexandra Poletto was the life of the offense in the first three sets with all 13 of her kills coming in those sets. Cizmic added in 15 kills of her own to give the Lobos a third threat. Freshman setter Katie Oleksak was back at it again with 51 assists in the match.
The team came up with huge blocks in the final two sets to give them a total of 22 for the match. The defense held the Lobos to a .166 hitting percentage in the match, including a negative .118 in the final set.
“I don’t think this was our best match of the year,” CSU head coach Tom Hilbert said. “But it was a great competitive moment for us again. We win five set matches it makes us a better team.”
The win puts the Rams at 10-2 in Mountain West play and in a tie for first place with the Boise State Broncos. New Mexico falls to 4-10 and into ninth place.
The Rams’ next three matches are all on the road, starting with the 6-7 San Diego State Aztecs Thursday Nov. 10.
Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44