The No.7 Colorado State volleyball team has some of the top hitters in the Mountain West Conference on a team that ranks first in hitting in the league and fourth overall nationally.
The Rams have an offense that has grown to be versatile on the outside and middle blocker positions. With veteran Kelsey Snider in the middle and freshman Jasmine Hanna and senior Marlee Reynolds on the outside, it is easy to admit that you would not want to stand in front of their spikes, or for that matter, any of top ranked teams in the country’s attackers.
But just as important as having a strong offensive attack is having someone to defend against your opponent’s best hitters.
The difference between a good defensive player and a great defensive player comes down to the details, something CSU junior libero Jaime Colaizzi has taken to heart. When she took the court three years ago as a defensive specialist, no one could have expected the success Colaizzi has had in the back row, not even her.
“It was always my goal to be an important role on this team, I definitely wasn’t expecting to play when I came in my freshman year—I mean I was hoping to and I was working towards it, but it was not something I thought was going to happen,” Colaizzi said. “It has been amazing to move into the libero position and make an impact on this team, to know that I am helping the success of CSU volleyball.”
The libero position does not have the glamour, nor does it receive the attention that setters or hitters do. As a libero, your sole job on the court is to be the backbone of the defense by digging opponents’ spikes and setting the tempo for a counter-attack.
“Just growing up and becoming an older player on the court has done so much for me,” Colaizzi said. “I feel nervous before every single match but I have players on the court that have to look to me to kind of be calm and collected. When I was a freshman it really helped to have players do that for me.”
Standing at five-foot, four inches, Colaizzi is fearless. When then-No.4 Wisconsin came into town, she was excited to be able to go toe-to-toe with some of the best hitters in the country. Colaizzi plays with a great deal of maturity on the court and has transformed into one of the most consistent players as well as leaders in the lineup, according to head coach Tom Hilbert.
“She is willing to take more space on the court, she serves tougher and there is just all of the little things that are always getting better with her,” Coach Hilbert said. “She is one of the leaders on this team and she is one of the key components in the success of this team. We are leading in the conference in digs and she is the anchor for that.”
Almost to the halfway point in the 2014 season, Colaizzi already has 255 digs with 4.40 digs per set. In nearly every press conference this season, Hilbert has talked about the defense’s ability to make plays, keeping the Rams in every match.
Down nine points to Wyoming in the second set of Tuesday’s match with little hope of a comeback suffering from its largest point deficit of the season, the Rams responded, and Colaizzi was yet again a huge part.
“I think we just got more experience on the court than we have had in the last couple years,” Colaizzi said. “Our defenders are three juniors and a sophomore and we just have a lot of experience and I think that is what has made the difference in our defense and serve receive.”
Colaizzi is a graduate of Windsor High School where she played on the varsity volleyball team since her freshman year. Despite many people laughing it off, Colaizzi was determined to be an outside hitter no matter her height, even though she later found her calling on defense as it carried her to the collegiate level.
“We very rarely give a four-year scholarship to a libero,” Hilbert said. “So we expected her to be really good, she was originally going to walk on for two years but it (Colaizzi’s recruitment) started to get very competitive. There were a lot of schools interested in her as she got older so we made the decision to have her here for four years.”
And like he has done with so many others, it seems Hilbert made the right decision to keep Colaizzi close to home.
Collegian Sports Reporter Haleigh Hamblin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @haleighhamblin.