The light is shining bright on a new star for CSU volleyball

Luke Zahlmann

Taking over for the all-time kills leader in Colorado State volleyball history is a challenge, one Breana Runnels is undertaking.

The aforementioned leader, Jasmine Hanna, played her final season for the Rams last year, leading the Rams attacking charge to a 29-4 record, with only a single blemish in their 17-1 conference schedule.

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On her way to rewriting the record books, Hanna registered 336 kills on the season, good for second on the team. The leader was Runnels.

In just her first year of consistent playing time for the Rams after redshirting, Runnels led the entire team in kills with 352.

Volleyball player, Breanna Runnels, spikes the volleyball.
Freshman Breanna Runnels (15) spikes the ball into the opposing team’s court at the CSU vs. UNLV volleyball match in Moby Arena on Sept 23. (Jenny Lee | Collegian)

The redshirt sophomore and 2017 Mountain West Newcomer of the Year entered this season with a new role: leader. After just the first match, her coach, Tom Hilbert, saw a game-changing force.

“In (the Illinois) match, she showed uncanny maturity for where she’s at in her development,” Hilbert said. “She was so composed… she had her motor running but it was extremely composed and that’s rare. She’s a different kind of kid.”

The trait is one Hilbert saw in another player: Hanna.

The comparisons between the two in the eyes of the coach that has led them both are astounding. Their leadership, hunger and maturity are something that Hilbert has rarely seen, but traits that the all-time leader for the Rams possessed.

Runnels was able to share the court with Hanna for the first two years of her career including game time last year. Following Hanna’s departure, as well as that of Sanja Cizmic, the depth of the Rams has shrunk, putting the onus on Runnels even more.

The drive for Runnels is one born out of competitiveness, one that she hopes will enable her to pass her former teammate one day.

“(Setting the record is) definitely a goal. (Jasmine) is kind of setting that goal for me as well,” Runnels said. “She tells me that I’m gonna beat it.”

The goal stems from not only resetting the record books but having the shared feeling of her jersey with Hanna’s in the Colorado State Sports Hall of Fame in Moby Arena. 

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Girl posing
Colorado State volleyball senior Jasmine Hanna (6) smiles with head coach Tom Hilbert after she broke the record of 1,067 career kills. Hilbert also hit the 700 mark in wins as Head Coach. The Rams swept San Jose State 3-0. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

The drive to be the best is not the only similarity between the two, but the leadership style of Runnels pays homage to the former outside hitter as well.

“I think what she took from Jasmine was understanding how to manage a game properly,” Hilbert said. “When to swing and when to take care of the ball.”

The leader and star of the team is a role that is not new for Runnels though.

In high school, Runnels attended Independence High School and was named team MVP in 2014 as a junior, as well as her team’s offensive player of the year in 2013. She also led her team to two South Yosemite League championships including her senior year when they went 10-0 in the league and received league MVP. Runnels led the league by nearly 200 kills her season year.

“I don’t think there’s much difference (between high school and college stardom),” Runnels said. “I just come on the court for one job and that’s to win. My mentality hasn’t changed since high school.”

The biggest difference between Runnels and her predecessor on the outside is their size. Hanna held a distinct advantage of three inches on Runnels, a trait that has affected the way Hilbert conducts his gameplan for the second-year player. 

“(Runnels) is not a big kid,” Hilbert said. “Breana has to elevate her game physically on a very consistent level for a long time. Fatigue is gonna be huge; (the) health of her body and fatigue is gonna be huge.”

The workload is nothing new for Runnels as she had nearly 1,000 attempts in her senior year as well as almost 900 last season for the Rams.

Her size has never been an issue in the eyes of the facilitator of the Rams though. Setter Katie Oleksak, 2017 Mountain West Player of the Year, has nothing but positivity for the newest hitter to benefit from her assists.

“She has been the go-to hitter, someone I can trust,” Oleksak said. “Whether it’s in system or out of system, I know she’s gonna put it away or do something smart with it.”

On the young season, Runnels leads the team in kills already, despite the increased focus on her abilities from the opposition.

A year of film is now available to opposing teams and Runnels has already seen the difference in stopping power against her.

“They’re definitely going after me,” Runnels said. “I’m taking on this role and I need to perform.”

The Rams enter their hardest out-of-conference weekend of the year as they will face Cincinnati, Florida State, and Texas Christian on Saturday and Sunday. The opportunity to shine once again will be readily available in the top matchups for Runnels, a feat her team and coach feel she will have no trouble with.

Collegian Sports Director Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.