Rams implement new rotation in hopes of another MW title

Emmett McCarthy

The Rams would like to hit the ground running in 2015 as the 6-time defending Mountain West champs make their push for seven in a row.

“We’re one of the best that we’ve ever been in the areas of ball handling, serve-receive and defense,” Hilbert said. “We’ve got experience in those positions, we’ve got great players in those positions.”

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What they do not have, is the 2014 MW Player of the Year Deedra Foss, two other All-MW selections in Marlee Reynolds and Kelsey Snider, and last year’s leader in service aces, Kaitlind Bestgen. 

The departures of the three seniors along with Bestgen deciding to forego her senior year leaves a void in the hitting and setting departments.

It is the main reason that Hilbert has elected to go with a 6-2 rotation, rather than the 5-1 rotation they have utilized in the past.

The 6-2 means that he will have two setters rotating through the back row, but that he will have six hitters on the court at all times as well.

The setters in a 6-2 must to be able to finish off plays as well, so Adrianna Culbert will fit right in.

The MW Preseason Player of the Year was initially recruited as a setter, with the plan being for Culbert to take a redshirt in her first year when Foss was a sophomore. That would leave Culbert with two years of eligibility left to take over the setter position after Foss graduated.

But Culbert’s immediate development as a hitter changed those plans. With just her senior year remaining now, she is enthusiastic about shifting back to a setter role in some capacity.

“I’m really excited for it,” Culbert said. “It’s something I haven’t done in the last couple years but I’ve always wanted to have a chance to do both. To get back into that part of my game is really awesome.“

Fellow senior Crystal Young will join her as the other setter in the starting lineup. Hilbert explained the benefits of the new rotation and how it best fits the roster.

“It allows us to put some people into their strengths,” he said. “I think that (Adrianna) Culbert is a very good setter but she also passes well and hits well. Crystal (Young) is a good setter, but Crystal is not great as a setter close to the net. It allows them both to avoid their weaknesses and stay with their strengths. It also allows our middles to do what they do best.”

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Now that Hilbert has the setting figured out, he would like to see better hitting at the net.

He credited the blocking in practice for giving hitters a tough time, but said that they should still be able to terminate more hits.

“I look at it as kill percentage,” Hilbert said. “But I don’t want to tell players we have got to get at this kill percentage. Because that means nothing to them. They just need to go up and take care of the ball. When they have a chance to get a kill, go for it. When they don’t, they’ve got to do smart things.”

That was part of the reasoning behind bringing in senior Long Beach State transfer Alex Reid, who Hilbert believes will bring a lot to the table with her hitting and smarts.

Reid is one of a few new additions to the CSU team.

The Rams added two freshmen by way of California in Katie Craig, a defensive specialist, and Julia Cubbedge, a left-handed setter/hitter.

CSU also stocked up on some local talent in Fort Collins product Mariah Green who earned a walk-on spot in the spring as a defensive specialist, in addition to Reid, who hails from Aurora, Colorado.

Injuries have limited freshman Kirstie Hillyer (knee and shoulder), though she has been practicing this week and Hilbert said she is doing well now.

Sophomore Sanja Cizmic worked her way back from a high-ankle contusion and had no limitations this week in practice. Freshman Jessica Jackson is recovering from a ruptured achilles and will take a medical redshirt, according to Hilbert.

The Rams start the season with with three games in two days as part of the Rams Volleyball Classic, including a match against a Big-12 opponent in Baylor. At this point, depth is Hilbert’s biggest concern.

That is why he felt comfortable bringing in a one-and-done transfer such as Reid. She is capable of starting, but she also understands the expectations that come with joining the program.

“The Sweet 16 is definitely on everyone’s mind,” Reid said. “But there are a lot of big steps we have to take before that.”

Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.