No. 21 Colorado State volleyball swept Nevada for the seventh consecutive time on Saturday afternoon to begin homecoming weekend with a bang (25-21, 25-19, 25-18).
McKenna Thornlow’s mother, currently battling breast cancer, joined Thornlow on the court during the pregame introductions and was welcomed by a standing ovation by a Moby Arena crowd adorned in pink. Many of her teammates dyed their hair and sported pink accessories in support as well.
“It (has been) a big toll on Mckenna,” Alexandra Poletto said. “We were all trying to be there for her as she goes through this with her mom and we all feel for her for that.”
The Rams came out fighting early, jumping out to a 5-0 lead over the Wolfpack. Without trailing in the set, the Rams cruised to an opening set victory, a feat they have accomplished in all but two of their matches to this point in the season.
Midway through the first set, Jasmine Hanna, coming off her historic night on Tuesday, was the only Ram with a kill. With Nevada’s main hitter Shayla Hoeft sidelined, the Rams shifted their attention to fellow Wolfpack hitter Ayla Fresenius who was held to a mere six kills with a lowly -.083 hitting percentage.
With a lack of hitting power coming at them, the Rams were able to hold Nevada to a .149 hitting percentage as a team, suffocating the Wolfpack with constant blocking force. Nearly every ball hit over the net was being disrupted by a Ram blocker, sending the Wolfpack scrambling for other options including tipping the ball over in hopes of catching the defense off guard. Despite their best effort, they were thwarted by the Rams stifling defense which was aided by an overwhelming height advantage.
“(Seeing the height difference) makes me feel confident,” Paulina Hougaard-Jensen said. “I am the small one of all of us (middles), but when the ball is high and you block it, it feels good.”
Going through the first set without trailing, the Rams were forced to claw their way through the second set, trailing or tied for most of the set. The Wolfpack’s opportunity to upset the Rams was limited by consistent serving and hitting errors. As an underdog, a flawless game with few mistakes must be played and Nevada was subject to the lesson early and often. Even with their best effort, the Wolfpack began to succumb to fatigue and the Rams pulled away late in the set.
Coming out of the intermission, Nevada jumped ahead, similar to the previous set. The deficit for the Rams was due to their lack of hitting efficiency, exemplified by their negative hitting percentage for much of the early portion of the set. As the set went along, the Rams rose their hitting percentage and found their groove again.
“They were digging a lot of balls,” coach Tom Hilbert said. “We just didn’t get a ton of kills and that’s probably a result of not passing great and having to take some extra swings to get into position to get kills.”
As a whole, the Rams struggled to hit in the match, a product of the Wolfpack’s digging prowess. Overcoming the woes, the Rams rode senior Hanna and her eight kills to a good enough hitting day. Fellow senior Sanja Cizmic carried the sweep at the end, serving the Rams to a 5-0 scoring run to pull away in the final set. Following the lead of their seniors has been the catalyst for the Rams triumphant season and even on a down day, the maturity of the team’s veterans was evident.
As the season draws on, the Rams winning ways have continued as they have now pushed their record to 18-2, winning 18 of their last 19 matches overall. They remain perfect in conference with Boise State being their only game in which they were forced into more than three sets.
Following their perfect home stand, the Rams will head out on the road yet again as they play UNLV in Las Vegas Thursday.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.