Colorado State volleyball proved they are the queens of the north as they defeated the Northern Colorado Tuesday night in straight sets, 25-21, 25-18, 25-17.
Serving has been a major issue early in the season for the Rams (2-1) and that was evident on Tuesday night against the Bears (0-3). CSU had 12 service errors in the match, but were able to combat that with five aces throughout the match.
“We had to serve tough to put pressure on (UNC),” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “We missed more than I would like, but we are not going to tell these players to back off because we need to serve tough and that’s got to be something that we do all season long.”
The Bears took advantage of those serving mistakes and some unforced errors to start the match and forced Hilbert to call a timeout out of frustration after CSU went down 9-10 early. Sophomore libero Amanda Young missed a dig and whiffed on a set pass that helped give the Bears the early set lead.
Hilbert’s timeout would do the trick as the Rams ultimately won the set 25-21 behind a team .346 hitting percentage. Defense still looked shaky as they allowed the Bears to achieve a .267 percentage and had four errors on serves.
The second set would bring about the same early struggles as the Rams continued to send serves into the net with five more errors. However, senior Sanja Cizmic and sophomore Breana Runnels would make up for it with several kills that would hit the arms of the Bears’ defenders and go flying into the crowd. The duo combined for seven kills in the second set as the Rams cruised to a 25-18 set win.
“We really used Sanja well today,” Hilbert said. “She can take a ball that is set from 20 feet off the net and get a really nice, effective swing.”
Cizmic would carry her hot second set into the third by grabbing two more kills and finishing the match with a .429 hitting percentage. In the Rams’ first two matches, Cizmic was hindered by her ankle and abdominal injuries. Those problems seemed to subside against UNC thanks to some excellent work by the Rams athletic trainer.
“Our athletic trainer taped my ankle so good that it’s still numb from it,” Cizmic said. “It’s getting better.”
The defense would gain feeling towards the end of the second set as Young was able to dive for a tough dig that resulted in Oleksak laying out to keep the ball in the air. The pass went over to Runnels who pushed it over the net and ultimately led to the Bears knocking the kill attempt out of bounds.
“I think that (Young) needs to continue to improve because I think there are going to be other people that are going to improve too,” Hilbert said. “She struggled in the early part of this match today and rebounded herself, which is cool. I like seeing that because it shows you these kids have an internal voice of control.”
CSU would lay it on the Bears in the third set with a dominate set win in which the Rams hit at a .520 clip and went on a 10-1 scoring streak. The run put them up 15-7 and helped push them to the 25-17 set win.
The offense came from all over the court on Tuesday as Runnels and redshirt sophomore Kirstie Hillyer led the team with nine kills, but Cizmic and senior Jasmine Hanna were right behind with five of their own.
“If you play a team that plays good defense, you’ve got to have stuff coming from all different trajectories,” Hilbert said.
Runnels had her first collegiate start last Friday against Duke and is proving that she can become on offensive force as an outside hitter.
“I think I am more comfortable,” Runnels said. “Me and Katie (Oleksak) were talking after every play and I just have to trust her and she just has to trust me and we connect very well like we have been the past two games.”
That connection will be necessary when the Rams travel to Florida on Wednesday to play three matches in two days, including a matchup against the current No. 15 Florida State Seminoles. The tournament begins against Texas Christian on Friday, Sep. 1 at 9 p.m. MT.
Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ajwrules44