Buffaloes come back to end Rams’ 10-game winning streak

Austin White

Sanja Cizmic delivers a spike against Colorado. The Rams lost to the Buffs in five sets. (Matt Begeman | Collegian)

At the end of non-conference play, Colorado State volleyball ran out of gas in its loss to the University of Colorado on Saturday night, snapping the Rams’ 10-game win streak (25-21, 25-23, 22-25, 14-25, 8-15).

The Rams (10-2) took the first two sets despite being out hit in both sets. The Buffaloes (10-1) continually had serves going into the net or too long that helped close that hitting gap.

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CU had a 21-13 lead in the second set when the Rams went on a 7-0 run to pull the gap to one point. CU regained the serve, but another error gave it right back and ultimately gave the Rams all the momentum going into the break with a dramatic eight-point comeback.

However, the Rams forgot to fill the tank during the break and came out sluggish on their receive game and would stay that way the rest of the match.

“I think we kind of got complacent, maybe comfortable,” senior Jasmine Hanna said. “We even came into the locker room and said they were going to bring another level…we didn’t match it. We needed to play our best to match them.”

CSU still had a chance to close the match as they had a 21-20 lead in the third set. Bad receptions would derail the Rams’ system though and the Buffs won the third set.

The hitting discrepancy finally showed in the fourth set as the Buffs rolled to a 14-25 win. CSU hit -.074 in the set while the Buffs had their best blocking performance of the match, recording three in the third set.

The final set would go in the Buffs’ favor as they never trailed and took it 8-15 while hitting .345 and finishing the match at a .318 mark.

CSU was hitting at .281 after three sets, but dropped significantly in the final two frames and finishing at .201. All night the Rams made digs that took themselves out of the set-attack system that forced awkward angles and blown attacking opportunities.

“(In the third set we) started kind of falling victim to some very good serving by them,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “We kind of got disrupted a little bit. Our offense didn’t have as much flow as it has had in the past few matches. We are going to have to figure out why that happens.”

Sophomore Breana Runnels struggled to find the floor all match as she had a .093 hitting mark while picking up 13 kills, the second most for the Rams. Reigning AVCA Player of the Week Sanja Cizmic led the Rams in kills with 16, but also had problems getting around the block of CU with her .200 hit percentage.

Overall, the Rams were out blocked 9-7 in the match as middle blocker Kirstie Hillyer sat out her sixth straight match and fellow blocker Alexandra Poletto played limited time and looked to be limping towards the end of the match. That left sophomore Paulina Hougaard-Jensen to do the heavy lifting in the middle, something that Hilbert thinks might have taken a toll.

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“We played a team tonight with really good middles, really physical middles,” Hilbert said. “Paulina has been playing a lot and playing well, but she is tired. That’s a physical challenge for those guys and they need to rest and get better.”

Hougaard-Jensen finished with only eight kills and four blocks, which was still the team high in denials.

CU’s Alexa Smith dominated the Rams up front with 25 kills and a .310 hitting mark. Frankie Shebby also had a solid offensive match with 16 kills on .342 hitting.

The loss to CU does not hurt the Rams standings as much because of CU’s high RPI rank, but the first ever loss to an in-state team at home under Hilbert stings.

“It hurts a lot, it sucks,” Hanna said. “I don’t ever want to be in this position.”

Despite the emotional loss, Hilbert and the team still believe they are in a good position heading into conference play.

“I think (the loss) adds steam if anything,” Hanna said. “I know that I’m personally fired up and I think the rest of the team is fired up about this so I think this just adds momentum.”

“This is a very good volleyball team, but it is a volleyball team that is a little bit vulnerable at times,” Hilbert added. “We have a target on our back (in the Mountain West)…we got to prepare well, but this team can certainly win a Mountain West championship.”

The Rams open up Mountain West play at home on Thursday, Sept. 21 when they take on New Mexico. The match is set to begin at 7 p.m.

Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44