CSU volleyball lowers magic number to one after sweep of Utah State

Austin White

A player goes up for a hit.
Outside hitter, Breanna Runnels, goes up to hit against Wyoming during the game on Sept. 26. The Rams swept the Cowgirls in three sets. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Colorado State volleyball last played one week ago and their time off proved to be valuable in their sweep of the Utah State Aggies Thursday night (25-16, 25-18, 25-14). The Aggies had no response for the strong arm of redshirt freshman Breana Runnels who led the Rams in kills with 14.

The California native constantly hit hard attacks that not only ignited the crowd of 1,832, but also fired up her teammates.

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“We know Bre (Runnels) is a phenomenal attacker so when she gets out there and gets those huge swings and puts it away we can definitely see the other team kind of deflated,” redshirt sophomore Kirstie Hillyer said. “She’s doing great so we want to do great.”

At the start of the second set, the Aggies (13-12, 5-8 MW) jumped out to a 4-1 lead off three straight hitting errors by the Rams (23-2, 13-0 MW). With the score 5-2 in favor of the Aggies, Runnels started to take over by pushing the Rams to a 5-1 run, highlighted by her four kills.

“Tom (Hilbert) just kept telling to be patient, keep swinging like obviously don’t let up, you’re not going to get kills that way,” Runnels said. “We had a week to really rest our bodies for this game and I think that showed in all of us.”

Runnels has already made a name for herself as being a hard hitter and that was punctuated Thursday night off an attack that she did not even get a kill on. The freshman came running up the middle and slammed a ball so hard that head coach Tom Hilbert turned to his fellow coaches with a huge grin on his face. The ball was dug out, but the message was sent from Runnels.

After the deficit in the second set ended, the Rams coasted thanks to the offensive performance from Runnels and redshirt sophomore Kirstie Hillyer. The Rams’ middle blocker finished the night with 13 kills, six blocks and three service aces to account for 22 of the Rams’ 75 total points.

“Let it be noted, Kirstie Hillyer was responsible for (22) points,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “That’s big time in a three-set match. Wow.”

The Rams’ hitters know that they could not do it without their setter, Katie Oleksak. The sophomore put up 45 assists to tie for the second most assists in a three-set match in program history.

“She’s (Oleksak) really good,” Hilbert said. “She had some tempo issues early, but figured those out, really made great decisions, moved the ball around a lot so everybody was getting it. That’s what I like to see. I want to keep everyone fresh, I want to keep everyone mentally into every set.”

“Katie is just so versatile like she can manage any ball and put us all in a good position,” Runnels said. “She knows what she’s doing, she has great control and obviously the hitters did well tonight.”

As a team, the Rams finished with a .404 hitting mark and held Utah State to just .161. The Rams blocked the Aggies well early with five blocks and finished the match with nine.

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San Diego State won on Tuesday, however, which delayed the possible Mountain West title clinch the Rams are looking to grab. Still, with a win over the Boise State Broncos Saturday, the Rams can take the conference title thanks to having the tiebreaker over the second place Wyoming Cowgirls, who would be four games back with only four games remaining.

The match against Boise State will be back in Moby Arena Saturday afternoon with first serve set for 1 p.m.

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