The Rams concluded their undefeated trip to Tallahassee with a sweep over the No. 15 Florida State Seminoles Saturday.
Florida State’s young team matched the Rams by sweeping UNC Asheville on Friday to move to 4-0 heading into the showdown against Colorado State. Despite playing one less game than the Rams in the tournament, the Seminoles were unable to keep up with the energy and fight of the Rams.
The Rams were blocked on their first three kill attempts to begin the match, but quickly rebounded to tie it up and win a back and forth first set that featured multiple lead changes. However, the momentum stuck with the Rams throughout much of the opening set.
Kirstie Hillyer went down with an injury to begin the second set, which added to an already thin middle position for the Rams as Alexandra Poletto continues to rehab after off-season surgery.
Without two of their three middle blockers, the Rams turned to Paulina Hougaard-Jensen to lead the middle. Hougaard-Jensen responded by leading the team and tying the match-high with four blocks.
“(After the injury) we had to be very weighted toward our outside hitting,” coach Tom Hilbert said. “You change the way you think at that point.”
The Rams were led by outside hitters Breana Runnels and Jasmine Hanna who led the match with 15 kills apiece, including a final set .654 hitting percentage for the team. Runnels’ emergence early in the season has created friendly competition among teammates, something that has increased the play of the entire team.
“Our outside hitters took control of the whole match,” Hilbert said. “We played with more maturity. We did not miss any serves, hit many unforced errors and we served the ball tough…(Runnels and Hanna) like each other and support each other a lot. I would say (the competition) is very friendly and they both want to perform well.”
Throughout the early part of the season, finishing matches has been a hiccup for the Rams. Those troubles subsided in their match against the Seminoles as they finished off each set strong, even the second set in which they lost the first five points after Hillyer’s injury.
Despite the blow to the Rams, the team was able to dig out of the early hole and take the lead as the set wore on, eventually winning the set 25-23 after a 4-2 run and kill by Hanna.
“Once we started getting ahead, they actually backed off of their serving pressure, which made it easier for us,” Hilbert said.
The Rams were pushed by the leadership of Hanna, which proved to be the catalyst for shaking off the injury and composing themselves for the rest of the match.
Hanna has had a lackluster season by her standards to this point, but picked up where she left off last season with a huge game that saw her hit .452.
After receiving votes in the first two polls of the year, the Rams’ undefeated weekend pushed them into the No. 25 spot in the AVCA top 25 poll. Meanwhile, Florida State fell five spots to No. 20 after its first loss of the season.
A young team coming into the season, the Rams have disregarded their opening match loss against Duke and stormed back to move to 4-1 on the season. CSU has nearly a week off before hosting the first game of their tournament on Friday, Sep. 8 at 12 p.m. against Ball State.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.