No.19 CSU volleyball’s win streak ended short of its sweet sixteen Saturday as the Mountain West Conference champion Rams fell to San Jose State in five sets on the road (25-20, 19-25, 25-19, 21-25, 11-15).
The loss served as the second straight year that the Rams have lost to the Spartans on the road.
A first set battle ensued between the Spartans and Rams as the latter struggled to communicate and flow offensively with senior Sanja Cizmic being replaced by sophomore Olivia Nicholson in the starting lineup. It was the second straight game the Rams have begun without Cizmic as she nurses an injury.
The Rams overcame adversity yet again and took the first set behind strong performances by standout middles Kirstie Hillyer and Paulina Hougaard-Jensen. After battling an injury suffered against Florida State, Hillyer has come on strong lately, registering double digit kills in two of the team’s last three matches. With a late 6-1 run, the Rams shut the door on the underdog Spartans.
In a match where the Rams where missing two of their seniors in Cizmic and Alexandra Poletto, the maturity of the Rams was tested early and often with the Spartans coming out on top in the end.
After an early clinching of a conference title, the Rams’ future stars are showing their abilities as some of the stalwarts on the team get much needed rest. Oleksak has stepped her game up even more coming off a conference offensive player of the week award. After setting a new school record for assists in a three-set match, Oleksak once again headed the Rams offensive attack with 51 assists.
Resorting back to their service error woes, the Rams had 14 in the match. Against a lesser team, the Rams can easily overcome errors. But as the tournament approaches, the mistakes will need to be cleaned up. Competing in the Mountain West has forced the Rams to go through multiple months of games against low competition but will have to step their game up against the top competition in the nation that the NCAA tournament offers.
In the second set, the Rams fell to the Spartans by a large margin despite their best efforts with a late run. The set served as an end to the Rams’ 16-set win streak. The loss came with the entrance of Cizmic late in the set. Cizmic was unable to muster a single kill in the set.
Hitting woes were the story of the disappointing set as the Rams hit a mere .091. The Rams once again had four service errors, with the set point coming on a Breana Runnels error. Defense was less of a problem for the visitors as the Rams mustered six blocks in the set, a far cry from their single block in the opening set.
The third set was a stark contrast to before the break as the Rams cruised without much trouble. The Rams took the set on two straight kills from Cizmic and hit .586 in the set, their highest of the day. Adjustments were made at the break and the third set served as a direct juxtaposition to the second.
Despite their best efforts, the Rams were unable to prove the second set was an anomaly as they hit a lowly .162 in the fourth set and were beaten soundly. With only a single block, the defense failed to overcome the hitting struggles of the Rams hitters. Along with their offensive downfall, another three service errors raised their total to 13 through four sets.
In the clinching set, the Rams appeared lost for large portions. Despite coming in undefeated, the Rams were unable to muster much of a fight against the Spartans. With another service error adding to their already double-digit total, the Rams mistakes cost them a chance at an undefeated conference record, and any hopes of hosting a tournament game.
In a match where a loss does not have a huge effect, the Rams were given a wakeup call and their first loss in almost two months. A taste of defeat will look to be used as fuel to the Rams’ fire rather than a dosing of water as the postseason approaches.
The 19th-ranked Rams head into their second to last week of the season with a 25-3 overall record. With two matches, one at home against Fresno State and their second at San Diego State, the Rams will look to push their record to 27 wins, their most since the 2014 season in which they totaled 31.
Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.