CSU volleyball uses complete effort to sweep Utah State

Michael Roley

After losing in four sets on Tuesday night at Wyoming, the CSU volleyball put itself back in the win column with a 25-15, 25-17, 25-12 sweep over Utah State in front of an orange-clad crowd of 1,930 fans at Moby Arena on Saturday afternoon.

The Rams were not lacking in any facet of the game against the Aggies. They hit .350 as a team and recorded 10 team blocks while only trailing once. Led by setter Katie Oleksak, the wealth was distributed rather equally on the attack with five players racking up at least six kills.

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“It was very complete, very well-played in every facet,” coach Tom Hilbert said. “Utah State is better than what this score projects…We were just keeping our errors at such a minimum and serving the ball well and giving ourselves opportunities to transition and score. And we had great balance in our offense.”

Kirstie Hillyer put together another solid showing, leading the offense with 11 kills. Paulina Hougaard-Jensen notched eight kills while Sanja Cizmic added seven.

CSU was without freshman hitter Olivia Nicholson for the third consecutive match. Nicholson sustained a concussion on Oct. 13 against San Jose State when she collided with Cassidy Denny going for a ball. In turn, the Rams have had to adjust their lineup.

Hougaard-Jensen entered the regular rotation after Nicholson’s injury and today Hilbert shifted Alexandra Poletto in the opposite hitter position, although she remained hitting in our familiar middle spot. In the end though, it comes down to just putting players in positions where they’re more likely to be successful.

“We just try to put people where their strengths are,” Hilbert said. “I thought it worked out well. Paulina is a great blocker, she’s a really good right-side blocker. She’s smart and understands the game. She can make moves inside-out and against this team, (Utah State) that’s important.”

As has been the case most of the season, the Rams were putting up a wall at the top of the net with their blocks. CSU is ranked third in the country at 3.26 blocks per set. Against Utah State, everybody was joining in.

Hillyer and Poletto each had four total while Hougaard-Jensen and Cizmic both contributed three more. Oleksak, who is leading all setters in the NCAA in blocks, chipped in a solo too.

“Facing a tough block can completely change a match,” Hillyer said. “When we came out strong in the beginning as a team and got a bunch of blocks early, I think that started to shut them down early.”

Coming into Saturday, the Rams had lost two of their last three matches, a rare occurrence for a team that had won 31 consecutive matches prior to an Oct. 13 loss to San Jose State in five sets. CSU also dropped a four-setter last Tuesday to Wyoming after sweeping Fresno State on Oct. 22.

It was a timely win for the Rams after suffering a few hiccups the past matches, but it was not only the win, but the way they did it that pleased Hilbert afterward.

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“We played really well and I’m glad we got a win and I’m glad we won in three, “Hilbert said. “It takes us into another home weekend in which we need to play well. It helps the team feel like they’re in more of a flow. Every win is very important at this point. We need to win-out. I think teams that are good in this league are going to continue to play well.”

With this win, the Rams kicked off a three-match home stand with a win, and will next host UNLV on Thursday at 7 p.m. MT.

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