No. 20 Colorado State volleyball was pushed to their limit in their first game back at Moby against border war rival Wyoming, eventually taking the match in four sets (22-25, 25-16, 25-21, 25-16).
Coming out doing what they do best, the Rams blocked and hit their way to an early lead. Though held without a rally ending block for the beginning of the first set, the Rams were putting a hand on nearly every Cowgirl kill attempt. Unfortunately, many errant blocks caused the Rams to stay neck and neck with their opposition, despite the dominance at the net.
“People learn how to play (us),” coach Tom Hilbert said. “When they are better against you the second time around, that is what it is. New Mexico was at home and played a great game, and (Wyoming) is a very talented team (as well), they’re physically very talented.”
Struggles from senior Sanja Cizmic hindered the attack of the Rams as she hit negative in the early set. Middles Paulina Hougaard-Jensen and Kirstie Hillyer attempted to pick up the slack for the Rams hitting over .500 and registering seven of the teams 14 kills to start. The effort was thwarted by the .412 hitting percentage the Rams allowed, even though they limited Cowgirls hitting star Reed Copeland to a mere .167.
“We did a nice job,” Hilbert said. “She (did not) play very well and wasn’t connecting very well with their setter. I think the matchup of our middles to theirs (was won) by us.”
In an up and down opening, Amanda Young swung the set around with a diving dig, followed by a second in the same rally to ignite the Moby faithful. A defensive stalwart for the Rams, Young led the way once again in digs with five propping up multiple balls that escaped the wall of blockers. All for not, the Rams were unable to hold on as the Cowgirls commenced a 6-0 run to take the set.
Senior Jasmine Hanna brought the Rams back to their winning ways per usual with three of the team’s final four kills to take the second set. In a set that saw a complete reversal from the opening, the Rams hit .345, on par with their usual while holding the Cowgirls to a mere .057. After a wakeup call early, the Rams energy turned a corner and carried the Rams to a victory to draw the match to one all.
Along with a hitting juxtaposition, the Rams turned a single block into five with one fell swoop led by season standout Hougaard-Jensen who registered 10 blocks in the match. Pairing with the returned blocking power, digging circumvented the Cowgirl attack time and time again, with Young and Katie Oleksak leading the way. Young finished the match leading in digs with 20, further reinforcing her spot as libero after a long preseason competition resulted in her being given the spot.
“Practice is always intense,” Hougaard-Jensen said. “Especially when (Alexandra Poletto) is practicing, because we are all up there (competing with each other).”
Along with the two mainstays, the Rams incorporated Maddi Foutz in a big way, further strengthening their defensive stopping power. Wyoming hitter Halie Mcardle was able to have a coming out party, leading the Cowgirls with 15 kills, but the Rams were able to limit the team’s main hitters, opening up a spot to shine for Mcardle. Hilbert tipped his hat to the opposing hitter and continued to enforce a plan to shut down the leading hitters for the Cowgirls.
“The coach in me is like ‘why are we stopping this?’,” Hilbert said. “She was hitting some high angle stuff that we should have been blocking. My hat’s off to (Mcardle), she had a great match.”
A service ace to open the third set stood as a sign of things to come for the Cowgirls. Though multiple touching challenges and a full array of timeouts muddied the the third set, turning it into a marathon, the Rams remained composed and fought through additional hitting struggles with the help of their blocking. A 4-0 scoring run towards the end along with a doubling up in blocks in the match to that point propelled the Rams to another set win.
To round out the match, the Rams cruised in the fourth and final set behind a wave created through the middle with Hougaard-Jensen (.625) and Hillyer (.583) leading the way with Hillyer leading the match in kills with 16, her highest total of the year. Continuing her top in the nation ways, Oleksak led the match with 52 assists.
“(Hillyer) was just really explosive today,” Oleksak said. “I think she was getting really good spacing and you notice those things as a setter. She was just getting really good spacing and she was going slow to fast which sped up her arm swing.”
The Rams are onward to their match against Air Force at Moby Thursday at 7 p.m. In the teams first match, CSU came away with a clean sweep on the road and will look to get back to their sweeping ways after two straight matches without.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.