No. 25 CSU takes out St. Mary’s for second consecutive sweep to begin season

So far so good for the No. 25 CSU volleyball team.

For the second consecutive night, the No. 25 CSU volleyball won in three sets and received stellar play from true freshman Olivia Nicholson and Katie Oleksak.

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The Rams (2-0, 0-0 MW) swept St. Mary’s in front of 2,073 fans at Moby Arena (25-20, 25-20, 25-18) to earn their second victory in as many nights. Nicholson recorded a double-double, finishing with 12 kills and 13 digs while hitting .476. Fellow freshman Oleksak also recorded a double-double, distributing 33 assists and collecting 12 digs to go along with five blocks.

CSU had a big night blocking, stuffing 13 St. Mary’s attacks, including four in the first seven points of the first set. Junior Alexandra Poletto had eight blocks, while redshirt freshman Kirstie Hillyer and junior Jasmine Hanna both had five apiece. Senior libero Cassidy Denny was strong defensively with 14 digs.

“That was a good win,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “And I attribute a lot of it to how well prepared my team was… We did some scheming and it worked. I thought Jasmine Hanna did an unbelievable job blocking. I thought Katie Oleksak did an unbelievable job blocking. I thought both of our middles were good. The blocking sets the tone and gets them back on their heels a little bit.”

CSU jumped out to a 7-1 lead early on to force a St. Mary’s timeout. After the timeout, the Gaels were able to weather the storm, making it as close as 9-5 on a kill by Lindsey Calvin. Behind four kills in the set from Nicholson, the four blocks, and an overturned call that Hilbert challenged on a net violation, the Rams won the initial set 25-20.

Junior Alexandra Poletto celebrates her block with fellow teammates. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian) Photo credit: Elliott Jerge
Junior Alexandra Poletto celebrates her block with fellow teammates. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian) Photo credit: Elliott Jerge

In the second set, the Rams blocking was huge again, rejecting six Gaels attacks and holding them to a .137 hitting percentage. Nicholson led the offensive attack with five kills while Hanna and Poletto contributed three each. The Rams blocking was potent enough that as the match wore on, the Gaels took more of a finesse approach, using more tips and soft hits over the CSU blockers, an adjustment the Rams defense was prepared for.

“We talked about it in practice,” Denny said. “We said if we block them well they’re going to get nervous by our block because we do have really big girls up there. Jasmine’s a great blocker, Kirstie’s a great blocker, and Katie (Oleksak) is a great blocker. The other team’s see that so when we start blocking them three, four, five plays in a row they’re going to start tipping and rolling so we know in the back row to look out for that and that’s something we practice in our gym too.”

Both teams struggled a bit offensively in the third set. The Rams hit .182 and the Gaels .062 but CSU was able to find enough offense to finish off the Gaels and complete the sweep.

Nicholson has been the headline of the Rams early season thus far, the freshman from North Platte, Nebraska has posted eye-popping numbers in her first two collegiate contests. Last night Nicholson hit .562 against North Dakota State and had 12 kills. Before the season she didn’t really have any specific expectations about how much she’d play, let alone this well.

“I didn’t really have any expectations to play,” Nicholson said. “I just wanted work hard and I know I had to earn my spot if I was going to play because we have such a talented group of girls. I just feel honored to able to play and start for this team.”

It’s only been two matches so far for this young team, but Hilbert thinks the ceiling for them is very high.

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“Tonight I feel like we played at a pretty high level,” he said. “They have to play pretty good to exceed what I think is their best game. There’s been some real mature things going on, the way we’re attacking when we’re scrambling and out-of-system is really pretty good. When we were getting blocked tonight it was on in-system stuff. We’re not hitting many unforced errors which is great because we have a lot of new people on the court. But we can still get better in a lot of ways and it’s my job to watch that… If we’re winning games then we’re doing the right things.”

The Rams will have a few days off and then play the University of Northern Colorado on Tuesday in Greeley at 7 pm MT.

Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @michael_roley