Utah State hosted a block party on Saturday night but forgot to invite themselves as No. 23 Colorado State swept the Aggies for the sixth consecutive time (25-19, 25-19, 26-24).
The Aggies battled hard and pushed the Rams in each set, with the Rams pulling away at the end of the first two sets. After having no blocks midway through the first set, the Rams put their defense into a new gear and proceeded to get six blocks in the remainder of the set. Within the total of 16 blocks, the Rams were able to get multiple hitters and middles involved, resulting in seven players getting a block in the match.
“We had good fundamentals,” coach Tom Hilbert said. “We knew what they were doing and they hit the ball really hard (but) we had good blocking penetration.”
Due to the blocks, the Rams held the Aggies to a lowly .174 hitting percentage and contained their two top hitters to under .200, though they both registered double-digit kills. The Rams did allow five service aces and continue to work on their serve-receive as the conference schedule wanes on. Six service errors exemplified the work in progress on both sides of the opening hit.
The Rams hit .306 in the match, a sharp contrast from their opponent and were led once again by senior Jasmine Hanna on her journey to becoming the all-time kills leader in modern scoring history for the Rams. Hanna only needs six more kills to surpass Megan Plourde (1,066). Hanna has remained towards the top of the Rams in kills each and every match, supplying the team with plenty of firepower throughout an injury-riddled season.
“(Jasmine) just plays with great maturity,” Hilbert said. “She sees the game extremely well, tonight she had no hitting errors. That is absolutely incredible. She just keeps pounding away.”
During the second set, Utah State used their first timeout to halt a Rams run and went on a 4-0 run themselves to pull within a point of the Rams. The set went back and forth with the Rams eventually registering 11 of the final 16 points in the match. Despite their struggles closing in the early matches of their season, the Rams have become a dominant team towards the end of sets and put their foot on the throttle instead of coasting.
The third set served as the true test of the Rams as the Aggies gave their last-ditch effort in hopes of avoiding yet another sweep at the hands of their conference rival. Both teams led for good portions of the match and had several long volleys resulting in a chess match for both coaches.
“(Utah State) would usually come (off timeouts) with a called play,” Hilbert said. “(Plays) we were not defending which is usually easy to do because (a coach) can always pick one thing out.”
As the third set drew to a close, the Rams trailed 24-22, on the verge of dropping their first set to the Aggies in six matches. Cizmic came to the aid of the Rams and forced the hand of the Utah State coaching staff as her kill resulted in the Aggies using their final timeout of the set. Coming out of the timeout, Maddi Foutz was set to serve for the Rams and delivered three on target balls, with Breana Runnels blocking Kayla DeCoursey to tie the match. The Rams went on to get kills from Cizmic and Runnels to end the set, 26-24.
Returning home to Moby Arena, the Rams finished their four-game road trip undefeated and continue to extend their lead in the Mountain West Conference. The remaining schedule is ridden with several home matches for the Rams as they look to lock up the conference and head to the tournament in hopes of hosting their early matches.
A bout against San Jose State on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Moby Arena awaits the Rams (16-2, 5-0 MW). The Spartans (12-5, 4-2) currently sit second in the conference, though they have yet to play the likes of CSU or Boise State.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.