The No. 25 Colorado State Rams extended their win streak to six games after a 3-1 (21-25, 27-25, 25-22, 25-22) victory over the Ball State Cardinals Friday afternoon.
A closely contested fourth set challenged the Rams, but a highlight play from freshman Maddi Foutz gave CSU (6-1) the momentum to end the match.
The starting defensive specialist was able to save a ball by running full speed into the scorer’s table and nearly flipping over it. CSU was able to get it over the net and Ball State (5-3) sent the ensuing attack out of bounds, making it 10-9 in favor of the Rams.
The Rams never trailed again after the play by Foutz, but they still struggled with their early season problem of closing out sets as Ball State came up with a 3-0 run that forced a CSU timeout with the score at 24-22. Sophomore Breana Runnels finished her 19th kill of the game to give the Rams a victory.
The Rams dropped the first set 21-25 despite outhitting the Cardinals .222 to .216 and out blocking them 3-0. The biggest difference was that the Rams gave up five points in the service game with three service errors and two aces allowed.
Ball State had no answer for sophomore Paulina Hougaard-Jensen in the first set as she had five kills. That would only set the stage for fellow sophomore Runnels to have a career match.
Runnels recorded six kills in the second set and helped lead the Rams to a set win that also featured 6.5 blocks from CSU. Ball State fought through the onslaught of the Rams and had set points a couple times in the second. A block by sophomore Olivia Nicholson and an attacking error by Ball State gave the Rams a 27-25 set win and a lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the match.
The third set came easy for the Rams who led the whole way and were able to win despite allowing a 5-0 run to the Cardinals late that made it 24-22. CSU had three attacking errors and a service error that allowed the glimmer of hope for Ball State, but Runnels’ 13th kill of the match ended the rally and the set.
Blocking helped keep the Rams in the first two sets as they had 9.5 blocks in those sets alone. Only three blocks would come from the third and fourth sets though as Ball State was able to adjust to the Rams depleted middle blocking core.
“They changed the distribution, they went a lot to their middles and their middle had a lot of success and that opened things up,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “(Brooklyn Goodsel) did a really nice job of moving stuff around and getting around the block.”
Goodsel was not the only one getting around a block as Runnels set a career-high in kills with 19. Last week, the first year starter had 15 on the road against Florida State, which was her career high at the time.
She was not without her struggles though as she had 12 attacking errors from 47 attempts for a .149 hitting percentage.
Seniors Jasmine Hanna and Sanja Cizmic also contributed 10 and 12 kills, respectively. The 12 kills for Cizmic is her season high and Hougaard-Jensen had 10 for the third time this season.
“We hit way too many unforced errors, especially in the first set,” Hilbert said. “Breana was just resilient and got through it, so did Jasmine.”
Injuries also continue to plague the Rams as senior Alexandra Poletto is still out with shoulder issues and starters Kirstie Hillyer and McKenna Thronlow were also out. Hillyer injured her knee last week against FSU and Thronlow sat out with a concussion.
The beat up Rams will not get much of a break as they take on No. 16 Michigan later Friday night at 6 p.m. in search of their second win over a top 25 team.
Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44