Katie Oleksak leads group that plans to contribute by community

Mack Beaulieu

Colorado State volleyball’s Katie Oleksak is coming into the season at the head of what should be another powerhouse Mountain West team.

With three other all-conference players from last year on the roster, she will come into the season as head of the committee.

Ad

Leading the team from the setting position, after leading the Mountain West in assists and assists per set, Oleksak has spent the summer building that chemistry to an even greater level. After graduating a few seniors, the stellar sophomore class of last season will guide the team this season according to coach Tom Hilbert.

“Katie Oleksak, Kirstie Hilliard, Breana Runnels and Paulina Hougaard Jensen,” Hilbert said.  “The four returning all-conference players are still playing, now they’ve got to try to make the other people around them better.”

Oleksak, however, may have a little bit more expectation on her because of the way she’s always carried herself. Along with being recognized as the best player in the Mountain West.

“She’s been a leader since she walked in as a freshman,” Hilbert said. “So now it’s very clear that she’s the one with wisdom on our team because all the older players are gone. That’s the difference, but she’s always been a leader.”

Oleksak and others take after their coach of keeping a level head and a strong mindset. Hilbert likes to keep his mind on the present and not focused on accolades.

“We’re the same whether she got that label or not,” Hilbert said. “She’s the same person, same player, doesn’t matter if she’s player of the year, she’s a great player, everybody likes her, she’s very popular and she’s a great leader.”

With a top-25 match-up against No. 12 Illinois coming up this weekend, the Rams’ leaders are keeping their heads on straight.

“Our core group is still here,” Oleksak said. “We did graduate a big class, but I think the team culture is still really good. I think that carried on to this year… We have a lot of experienced girls and most of us know what we’re doing.”

“These are some really good players and a really good team,” Kirstie Hillyer said. “So I think it’s important to remember that we are too and to have the mindset that we’re going to go out there and give it our all, but we’re going to have fun while we do it so we can really give them our best shot.”

Outside hitter Breana Runnels built on that sentiment.

“Obviously we want to win,” Runnels said. “But really it’s just controlling what we can do on our side, we want to play CSU volleyball.”

Ad

With a band of returning players, yet still carrying youth, it will be on the juniors to lead a team that does not have a single senior. It seems both Hilbert and the team will have no trouble moving beyond that fact.

“We don’t talk about old players,” Hilbert said. “We just have to develop the people on the team and try to get the most out of the people that are here…there have been a lot of great players to come here and they all graduate.”

Oleksak seems confident that the team will keep a similar culture that has been so important at CSU.

“Our core group is still here,” Oleksak said. “We did graduate a big class, but I think the team culture is still really good. I think that carried on to this year… We have a lot of experienced girls and most of us know what we’re doing.”

Oleksak, who has shown high prowess already, has been working on her weaknesses as well as her strengths as the season approaches.

“She’s a better defensive player,” Hilbert said. “She has more of an understanding of how to get that pivotal ball to a player. Her locations are much more consistent.”

Hillyer echoed her coach.

“The biggest thing is working with each player and figuring out what they need,” Hillyer said. “She’s done a really good job of figuring out the needs of each of her hitters.”

Oleksak may be the defacto leader of this team, but she and the other girls made it clear that it is a group effort. Hillyer and Oleksak could not help but keep naming leaders.

“A lot of people lead by example,” Oleksak said.

Identified as maybe the loudest of the leaders, Hillyer gave her two cents on what excites her.

“We’re all leaders in our own way,” Hillyer said. “Whether its vocal or leading by example or off the court. I think that’s what’s really cool about this team.”

The Rams open the season against Illinois dawning all white along with the crowd at 7 p.m. on Friday. 

Mack Beaulieu is a reporter for the collegian and can be reached online at sports@collegian.com or on twitter @Macknz_James.