LARAMIE, Wyo. – Behind a dominant performance from senior Sanja Cizmic, No. 24 Colorado State wrangled the Wyoming Cowgirls Tuesday night in a straight-set victory (25-17, 25-21, 25-13).
Cizmic took over the match for the Rams (13-2, 3-0 MW) in the second set with six kills in the frame alone. The Croatia native picked up four more early in the third set and ended the match with her 13th kill to finish with a .600 hitting mark.
“Just getting my feet to the ball and making sure I stay high and aggressive,” Cizmic said in regards to her success. “Even though they are really good blockers, we can still beat them with our athleticism and I think that’s what we did today.”
Avoiding the strong middle blockers of Wyoming (6-9, 1-2 MW), something head coach Tom Hilbert said the team focused on during practice this week, worked well for the Rams as their outside hitters collected 31 of the team’s 41 kills. Wyoming only recorded six blocks in the match as the Rams improve their head-to-head record in the Border War to 63-20.
“Today our middles weren’t working as well, but our outside hitters were great,” Hilbert said. “It just says that we got a lot of weapons and we are playing consistent and I’m really pleased.”
Sophomores Paulina Hougaard-Jensen and Katie Oleksak held down the middle on defense by registering six and four blocks, respectively. The Rams did not have their usual high amount of blocks, but Hilbert was still happy with the performance on defense.
A few early mistakes in the first set put the Rams behind the Cowgirls 12-15 at the media timeout. Serving was an issue as they had three errors before the break, but they quickly corrected those mistakes by getting two aces in the second half of the set.
“I didn’t tell them anything,” Hilbert said. “One of the key things we did was put Amanda Young serving for Paulina (Hougaard-Jensen)…that had her serving three times and we know she is consistent and she was serving against a rotation that was troublesome for (Wyoming).”
CSU took control of the set, ending it on a 13-2 run. Redshirt freshman Breana Runnels found the holes in the Cowgirls’ defense as well by going 5-for-8 on her attacks with only one error for a .500 hitting mark in the frame.
Serving was an issue in the second set, but this time only for the Cowgirls. Wyoming had five errors in the first set and added in four more during the second frame. Those service mistakes proved costly for the Cowgirls as they outhit the Rams .242 to .202 in the set and had a 3-1 advantage in blocks.
Much like their last match against UNLV, the Rams dominated the third and final frame by performing well in every area. The defense held the Cowgirls to a .056 hitting percentage while the offense hit at a .414 clip.
Blocking also came easy for the Rams in the final frame as they picked up four of their eight total blocks to end the match. Cizmic helped frustrate the Wyoming attackers as well by recording a team high nine digs, tied with Oleksak and senior McKenna Thornlow.
Along with Cizmic, the Rams’ outside hitters dominated the net with 11 more kills coming from Runnels and seven from senior Jasmine Hanna. Overall, the Rams hit .297 as a team while holding the Cowgirls to .154.
Wyoming is the first of four straight road games for the Rams as conference play intensifies. Playing a rival like Wyoming on the road is never easy, but the Rams fought through the 1,061 in attendance at the UniWyo Sports Complex.
“Wyoming is always hard to play and they are a really good team that we can never underestimate,” Cizmic said. “We knew that if we play our game and if we stick to our game plan we can win that way.”
“I just feel like we were really mature,” Hilbert added. “We didn’t miss a lot of serves, we passed the ball well, we stayed solid and consistent for a whole three sets.”
The same consistency will be needed as the next stop in the Rams’ conference road trip will be Colorado Springs as they travel to take on the Air Force Academy. CSU has won 46 straight matches against the Falcons and is 46-1 overall. Their match gets underway Saturday, Sept. 30 at 1 p.m.
Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44