Life after clinching for No. 19 Colorado State begins on the road against conference foe Nevada as the Rams have a unique opportunity to look ahead.
Each opponent for the remainder of the season will serve as preparation for the NCAA tournament that begins in mid-December. Allowing injured players to get fully healthy, conjuring up new game plans that they can use in the tournament and vigorous practices lie ahead for the remainder of the regular season.
The first test for the Rams is the Wolfpack, who they swept earlier in the year at Moby Arena. A team that has dealt with an injury to their star Shayla Hoeft, the Wolfpack are 9-17 on the year but have been able to muster a .500 record in the Mountain West (7-7). Stepping up for Nevada has been sophomore Ayla Fresenius on the outside. The Rams were able to hold Fresenius to a mere six kills in their match earlier in the year on a -.083 percentage.
“(Nevada) has a really fast offense,” sophomore Katie Oleksak said. “We’re working on making sure that we’re getting out to the pin when we’re blocking and making sure that we’re really closing the blocks.”
Although the Rams swept the Wolfpack in the first meeting, their next meeting in Reno will present a brand-new game plan. With an increased intensity in practice where coach Tom Hilbert is changing the mindset, the Rams will come into the match looking to improve areas such as serving and serve receive as they push towards the tournament. With two servers in the top 10 in service aces in the conference, the Wolfpack will present another opportunity to improve one of the chinks in the Rams armor.
The scout team for the Rams will take on a new level of importance as the year wanes and the jump serving abilities of their players will be crucial in allowing the team to adapt to the difference in serving power that comes with the increases in competition.
Though the wins and losses for the remainder of the season have taken a smaller importance, Jasmine Hanna and the Rams’ leaders are preaching intensity and focus in their remaining matches.
“It’s really easy if you’re not playing the best of competition to relax,” Hanna said. “(Nevada has) nothing to lose so they’ll bring their best against us and we may have a big challenge so we just want to play well.”
Despite their last loss coming over a month ago, the Rams have avoided the complacency that comes with winning and pushed through their less-than-stellar conference opponents, winning the games they are supposed to win. The Rams are going into their match against Nevada knowing they will most likely be without starters Sanja Cizmic and Alexandra Poletto, both resting minor injuries.
With half of their compliment of seniors out, the Rams will lean more heavily on Hanna’s leadership as well as the leadership of their star setter and Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week, Oleksak.
Oleksak leads the conference in total assists (1,094) and assists per set (12.02) and has upped the ante with her fourth overall ranking in assists per set in the nation. After a successful freshman year, Oleksak has stepped up even more for the Rams and been a constant force among the multiple injuries and lineup changes around her. Having the top offensive force in the conference is an accolade that would not be possible without the constant precision of Oleksak.
CSU has fallen prey to the downfall of the Mountain West Conference and will look to raise their level of play going into the tournament, rather than play down to the level of their opposition. The Rams’ match against Nevada presents their first match as champions and will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday on the Wolfpack’s home floor.
The official Colorado State volleyball Twitter account will provide streaming links for those who are not able to make the trip, with the same holding true for their match against San Jose State on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.