Rams’ middle blockers shine on offense in sweep of Fresno State

Austin White

A block party at Moby Arena figured to be the likely outcome when the Fresno State Bulldogs took the court against the No. 24 Colorado State Rams. Instead, the Rams dominated on offense with a .451 hitting clip, needing only 4.5 blocks in their sweep of the Bulldogs (25-21, 25-22, 25-12).

Sophomore, Katie Oleksak sets the ball for her teammate to spike. Nov. 15, 2017, Moby Arena. Tyler Morales | Collegian

The top two teams in the Mountain West in blocks per set, CSU and FSU have dominated with their defense throughout the year. The Bulldogs did not match their 2.81 blocks per set mark Wednesday night, picking up two denials in the match. Their offense had no bite either with a .183 hitting mark and only 29 total kills.

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However, the Rams kept the first two sets close due to their continuing struggles in the service game. Through two sets, CSU already had 11 service errors along with four receiving errors on FSU’s serves.

“There were some words said,” sophomore setter Katie Oleksak said about head coach Tom Hilbert’s message between the second and third set. “He said the stats, he said how good our hitting was and our passing was those first two games but it was just so tight because of our errors so we really closed that gap by making our serves that third set.”

Oleksak stepped up on offense by picking up a career-high five kills in the match as she continued to dump balls into the holes of the Bulldogs’ defense. She also had eight digs to go along with her 44 assists.

“(Hilbert is) also just wanting me to focus in on (dumps) so that we can prepare for the future so that I can be more of a threat in the offense,” Oleksak said on using dumps. “I think this game was a good game to really practice it.”

Distribution from Oleksak changed Wednesday night as the Rams’ middle blockers made their way more into the offense’s scheme due to the Bulldogs’ focus on slide release on the Rams’ outside hitters. Hillyer led the Rams in attempts with 21 and finished tied for the team lead in kills with fellow middle blocker Paulina Hougaard-Jensen at 11.

“(The Bulldogs) were, again, doing a little slide release, focusing on our outside hitters which leaves Paulina wide open and she took advantage in the third set,” Hilbert said.

In the final frame, the Rams finally slowed down on their service woes after finishing with 14 in their last match, a loss to the San Jose State Spartans. Only one service error came in the third set, something Hilbert believes led to the much easier 25-12 set win.

“The first two sets were close and it was all because of missed serves and them acing us,” Hilbert said. “That’s a 15 point differential in just set one and two…we out hit them like crazy.”

The 4.5 blocks still stands out to Hilbert who believes the struggle is coming from teams using their outside blocking force.

“We’re not stuffing a lot of balls right now,” Hilbert said. “The other team is covering us when our middle blockers block it. When our outside blockers were blocking, we were getting used a lot today. We’ve got to shore that up and we will.”

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The Mountain West title already belongs to the Rams who decided to hold off the ceremony until their final match of the year against non-conference opponent University of California, Davis. That match will be Nov. 25 at 12 p.m. and the final conference match for the Rams will be Saturday on the road against San Diego State. First serve is set for 2 p.m. MT.

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