Coming off a tough loss against Duke Friday night, Colorado State volleyball sought to avoid starting the season 0-2 and came out with an angry tempo. Despite the vigor, the Rams fell behind early to the University of Central Florida due to multiple unforced errors.
“We started off not so good,” Coach Tom Hilbert said. “It is all revolving around inconsistency on service… we start slowly shoring it up, doing a better job at least not getting aced.”
The Rams dropped the first set 25-19 due to a fading attack to end the set. CSU had jumped out to a slim lead early but were unable to hold on as the set waned. Central Florida was able to seize the moment with five service aces in only the opening set.
“Each (rotation) has its challenges,” Hilbert said. “Tonight, we were getting stuck in particular rotations. We just need to play one point at a time.”
Despite dropping the opening set to UCF, the Rams prevailed in the second. Undeterred by letting go of a late lead, the Rams were able to close out the the second set 27-25 heading into the intermission.
“Our service pressure really increased,” Hilbert said. “Paulina (Hougaard-Jensen) did a fantastic job.”
Coming out of the break, the Rams shifted into a new gear. Early troubles with service aces became a thing of the past as the Rams did not allow another service ace until the waning moments of the fourth and final set.
“We just went in and said, ‘we have got to pass the ball better’,” Hilbert said. “Talked about serving targets, because the targets did change as the match went on. I think our team just stepped up as a serving team.”
The break served as a catalyst for the Rams who despite having only three blocks in the first two sets, blocked five UCF attempts in the final two sets, defeating the Golden Knights in each sequence.
“We started blocking the right-side players a little better,” Hilbert said. “(We) were doing the same thing (throughout), we just got a little more successful.”
Kirstie Hillyer made her presence felt throughout the night, ending the match with a team-leading .500 hit percentage and 16 kills
“I think that we definitely practiced Central Florida not keying on our middles,” Hillyer said. “I think that definitely helped give me more confidence, to know that maybe their block is not as hard on me which allowed me to swing away.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Jasmine Hanna struggled with a .042 hit percentage and only four kills. Stepping up for the Rams was Breana Runnels who almost caught Hillyer for the lead, falling short with 14 kills.
“I think I just had to trust myself,” Runnels said. “Last night was a little bit shaky, I got my jitters out. Tonight, I just trusted myself, trusted my teammates and played well.”
The Rams swung with anger from the beginning to the end of the match and were able to kill at a .302 clip.
“We wanted to come back with a bit of a vengeance,” Hillyer said. “Before the game Tom (Hilbert) told me that it is okay to hit a little angry sometimes. I think he knew it, we all knew we were a little angry and ready to come back.”
Team-leader Sanja Cizmic was able to rebound from injuries that caused her to sit for much of the Duke match, and played a pivotal role with nine kills and six digs.
“I think she still has a little bit of pain,” Hilbert said. “She told me she could go and promised not to limp around so I said okay.”
The Rams will look to continue their momentum and utilize two days off to heal up before their matchup against the University of Northern Colorado. The match begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29 at Moby Arena. The match will be the last home match for the Rams before heading out to Tallahassee for the Home2Suites Tallahassee Seminole Volleyball Invitational.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.