CSU volleyball is still adjusting to the loss of multiple key seniors

Mack Beaulieu

Even with a group of all-conference juniors, the Colorado State women’s volleyball team is still finding their way this season after losing seniors Jasmine Hanna and Sanja Cizmic last year.

Jasmine Hanna looks to spike the ball duirng the Rams’ victory over the University of Wyoming on Oct. 24, 2017. The Rams won in 4 sets. (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

Hanna and Cizmic brought consistent and powerful hitting to the team.

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Hanna was an all-conference player and the Rams’ all-time record holder for kills in a career while Cizmic was strong in her own right, earning an All-Conference Honorable Mention and a National Player of the Week award last year.

This season, the Rams are still working on how to replace the two outside hitters by working on a more varied attack this season, led by Breana Runnels.

But it is one with players in unfamiliar positions.

“Skill-wise there wasn’t really a loss,” junior outside hitter Jessica Jackson said. “It was more maturity. Jasmine and Sanja were amazing hitters and they were able to know when to hit, when not to hit and where to hit the ball. I think that’s something we’re all still figuring out.”

Replacing their past production mainly falls on the ability of the teams’ hitters to terminate a volley but with the strategy the Rams are taking, there has to be more ball movement. 

Another option is a more unorthodox attack with the middle hitters being more involved. Runnels is the main key to filling that void, leading the team in kills and taking on more responsibility to feed her teammates.

“Jasmine was given her sets because she has good control of her attacking,” Runnels said. “So I’m trying to be the same way, but also give more to the team because I’m passing and doing back row and expected to do a lot of different things that I didn’t do last year.”

Runnels is not the only one taking on new responsibilities as the loss of Hanna and Cizmic has forced the Rams to put more wrinkles in their attacks. The change means certain players are learning new skills and others are getting more involved.

Jackson has stepped up at the outside hitter position, adding new shots to her repertoire and junior setter Katie Oleksak has been entrusted to help run a different style than most teams are used to seeing.

“Jessica Jackson has done a pretty great job of playing really low error,” Assistant Coach Emily Kohan said. “Our middles have returned also, so we’re trying to figure out creative ways to get them the ball more often. They’re two of the best middles in the country so we want to use them on more than just the perfect situation.”

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Kirstie Hillyer has helped incrementally with that, being one of the team’s leaders in kills from the middle position. So far, it is still a growing process for the Rams as they are 6-3 after losing only four matches last year.

“There’s still hitters trying to find their comfort zones,” Runnels said. ‘Last year we had returning hitters, this year it’s kind of different because last year they didn’t play in this position. They’re kind of expected to be the aggressors and be the Jasmine Hannas and the Sanjas, so I would say it’s a growing experience for all of us.”

The Rams play their final out-of-conference matches of the year this weekend against Indiana State Sept. 14 with Portland State in the morning and a nightcap against Colorado Sept. 15. 

Collegian sports reporter Mack Beaulieu can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Macknz_James.