Colorado State faces a trio of out-of-state matchups this weekend

Luke Zahlmann

Coming off of their toughest weekend of the out-of-conference portion of their schedule, Colorado State volleyball will head into their second hardest merely a week later.

The Rams will head to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the weekend to participate in the Michigan Challenge where they will face Louisiana State University, the University of Oakland and the University of Michigan.

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The Tigers and Golden Grizzlies will both play the Rams Friday with the latter posing as an “away” game for the Rams despite the neutral site for the opening pair of contests. The first game of the day will take place at 9 a.m. while the Oakland matchup will start at 5:30 p.m.

In the opening match, the Rams will face a 2-4 Tigers squad that has struggled to this point in the year. With their only wins coming against Texas State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the Tigers have struggled in their marquee matchups, falling in four or fewer sets in every match except one.

Outside hitter sophomore Taylor Bannister leads the Tigers’ attack as she leads the team in total kills (94), kills per set (4.27) and is tied for second on the team in service aces (four). Bannister was a 2017 All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman award winner last season. She was also named freshman of the week three times.

In their second match of the day, the Rams will match up with the Golden Grizzlies. Their second match of the day comes against a similar opponent as Oakland is 3-3 on the year, with their trio of wins coming in their easier matches. The Golden Grizzlies are coming off of a pair of losses coming at the hands of Notre Dame and Purdue, both in under four sets.

Oakland is led in their attack by a dynamic duo in middle-hitting sophomore Jamie Walling as well as senior outside hitter Aleksandra Malek. Perched atop the roster in total kills, Walling sits at 62 on the season while Malek has tallied 61.

The difference between the two is efficiency in which Walling has been much more successful with a hitting mark of .289 opposed to Malek’s percentage of .130.

Despite the lack of effectiveness this year with her percentage, Walling figures to have more success outside for the Golden Grizzlies as Paulina Hougaard-Jensen and Kirstie Hillyer clog the middle for opposing hitters, posing as the main blocking force for the Rams.

Their final matchup of the weekend will be the largest for the Rams as they face No. 20 Michigan on their home floor.

Going into the tournament, the Wolverines are sitting at a perfect mark of 6-0, with their biggest win coming against Auburn. They have yet to lose a single set on the year at a flawless 18-0.

The mark comes with a grain of salt as the Rams will pose as their biggest competition on the season after beating the Wolverines twice last year, with one of the wins coming in the NCAA Tournament. 

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Sophomore Paulina Hougaard-Jensen sends a ball over the net during the third set against the University of Michigan on Sept. 8. The Rams defeated the Wolverines in three sets. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

Leading the Wolverines revenge plot will be senior outside hitter Carly Skjodt who leads the team in kills (72) and is third on the team in digs (41).

Skjodt was a 2017 AVCA All-America third team selection, All-Big Ten First Team selection and unanimous Preseason All-Big Ten selection coming into her final season. She had 25 kills overall in the team’s two matchups last year with a team-leading 17 in their tournament match.

The Rams will go into the weekend at a 4-2 mark going into their second-to-last non-conference weekend. The trio of contests will serve as the first for the Rams outside of the state of Colorado, and the second time outside of their home arena.

Despite dropping out of the rankings after their loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 1, the Rams still received votes and will look to re-enter the rankings with an undefeated weekend led by outside hitter Breana Runnels who already has 86 kills on the year.

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