It was a matchup that pitted the new kids on the block against the usual kings of the court, and the new kids were aiming to take down the kings.
And CSU, as winners of seven consecutive Mountain West conference championships were the kings being challenged by the new kids in UNLV, who entered 16-1 and were arguably the biggest threat to end CSU’s conference title streak. But CSU prevailed.
The Rams (11-5, 5-0 MW) took down the Rebels (16-2, 5-1 MW) in four sets (25-16, 25-14, 14-25, 25-21) on Saturday evening and now remain the only unbeaten team in conference play left in the Mountain West.
CSU was balanced and explosive offensively. Four players reached double-figures in kills led by Sanja Cizmic who had 13. Jasmine Hanna and Alexandra Poletto both added 12 kills while Kirstie Hillyer had 10. All four also hit above .300 for the night and the Rams hit .371 as team while holding UNLV to a .194 percentage.
Setter Katie Oleksak also continued her stellar start to conference play finishing with 48 assists. Cassidy Denny had 18 digs and freshman Amanda Young contributed 10 while CSU tallied 11 total blocks as a unit.
Early on it looked like CSU was going to be out of Las Vegas in record time as they pummeled the Rebels in the first two sets while hitting .536 in the first set and an outrageous .720 in the second in securing two lopsided set wins.
UNLV, however did not go away easily. The Rebels stormed back and took the third set and led for most of the fourth before CSU, who trailed 14-9 at one point rallied to clinch the match.
“The first two sets were as well as we’ve played well all year,” head coach Tom Hilbert said afterward. “They’re young, they got disrupted a little bit but we got our act together and came back…I was really pleased.”
It’s just five games into conference play and there are still 13 matches left to be played for CSU. But it also is an important time where teams can start to establish a pecking order. And with this win, CSU established themselves ahead of one of the conference’s most competitive teams, at least for the time being.
And this win could be one of those wins, in hindsight at the end of the season, provided CSU is in the favorable position it intends to be in, turned the tables and propelled them.
“It’s really a critical time for us in terms of the conference race,” Hilbert said. “It depends on what happens the rest of the season, but if we continue to win it’s going to make a huge difference.”
And for now, they remained the team to beat in the Mountain West.
CSU will return home next for its first home match in 19 days on Oct. 13 against Nevada at 7 p.m. MT.
Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michael_roley