The end of November means time for award season and the Colorado State Rams added quite a bit of hardware to their already full mantle. Sophomore Katie Oleksak was named the Mountain West Player of the Year, head coach Tom Hilbert took home MW Coach of the Year honors and redshirt freshman Breana Runnels was named Newcomer of the Year.
In addition to Oleksak and Runnels, redshirt sophomore Kirstie Hillyer, sophomore Paulina Hougaard-Jensen and senior Jasmine Hanna were all selected to the All-Mountain West team.
Oleksak becomes the 10th different CSU player to take home the Player of the Year honor in the 19-year history of the Mountain West Conference. The award is also the 13th time a Ram has taken home the title in Mountain West history.
Oleksak’s total of 1,310 assists led the Mountain West in the category by more than 200 sets. She also placed first in conference play with 12.16 assists per set.
The sophomore took home Freshman of the Year honors last season after recording 1,250 assists and 11.26 assists per set. Her 12.02 assists per set this year is a new CSU modern era record in a season, breaking the 11.76 mark by Deedra Foss in 2013. The 1,310 total assists also breaks the CSU modern scoring record in a season set by Foss in 2014 of 1,293.
Not only does Oleksak pass with ease, but she does well in almost every aspect of the game. Her 83 blocks is tied for the third most on the Rams and she has the second most digs on the squad with 216. Oleksak’s ability to read other team’s defenses also allows her to excel on dumping the ball on fake sets, leading to her 59 kills this season from the setter position.
Runnels took home Newcomer of the Year honors by leading the Rams in kills with 347 and ranking seventh in the conference in kills per set with 3.21. The redshirt freshman has already become well known for how hard she can spike the ball which is why the Rams set her the most this season with 857 attempts.
Another player made CSU history this season as Hougaard-Jensen broke the all-time hitting percentage mark. Her .473 hitting percentage beat out Angela Knopf’s .456 clip back in 2001 and is currently ranked second in the nation in the category. The Denmark native’s 257 kills are third on the team this season.
Continuing with the offensive theme, the outside attacking duo of Runnels and Hanna made the All-Mountain West team, Runnels’ first honor and Hanna’s second (2016). Runnels led the Rams in kills with 347 and Hanna finished right behind her with 328 in the regular season.
Hanna set the record for most career kills in Rams’ modern-scoring history after her sixth kill against the San Jose State Spartans on Oct. 12. She ends the regular season with 1,199 career kills as the Rams head to Palo Alto, California to take on the Michigan Wolverines in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Defense also had representation from the Rams as Hillyer’s 1.49 blocks per set led the conference and her 1.36 blocks per set in conference matches ranked second. Hillyer earned Newcomer of the Year honors last season, but did not have the same numbers this season after a knee injury sidelined the middle blocker for the Rams’ final six non-conference matches before she returned for the start of conference play.
Last but certainly not least is Hilbert who takes home the Mountain West Coach of the Year award for the 10th time. He reached a personal milestone of 700 career wins after the Rams defeated SJSU on Oct. 12 and led the Rams to their 14th Mountain West title in the 19-year history of the conference.
A nod went to the Rams on the Honorable Mention team in the form of senior Sanja Cizmic. The senior Croatia native dominated in the Rams non-conference schedule, highlighted by an AVCA Player of the Week honor back on Sept. 12. The award came after her 35-kill weekend that included a 13-kill, .550 hitting clip against the then-No. 16 Michigan Wolverines.
The season is not over yet for the award-winning Rams who are set to take on Michigan this Friday, Dec. 1 in Palo Alto. The Rams will be making their 23rd consecutive NCAA tournament when the rematch against Michigan begins at 5:30 MT.
Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ajwrules44.