CSU volleyball set for toughest road game of the season in Boulder

Sergio Santistevan

Two teams 62-and-a-half miles apart, one rivalry. 

The Rams prepare themeselves for a new set against the Bearcats. The Rams lost 3-1 at Moby on Sept 1. (Joshua Contreras | Collegian).

The Colorado State volleyball team will travel to the University of Colorado Sept. 15 for possibly its most illustrious road game of the season.

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CSU (6-3) is coming off a trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the Michigan Challenge that resulted in wins over both Louisiana State University and Oakland University. CU (5-3) also picked up a pair of big wins last weekend over the University of North Carolina and Oklahoma University.

Both teams have been ranked at some point this season, but that will not be the case this weekend, as neither team is currently in the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association poll.

CSU is starting to take form with the return of their libero, Amanda Young as CU is still trying to find things out. The Buffs do have a talented, well-balanced lineup, led by senior Alexa Smith.

Before both teams go head-to-head on the court, they each will have to matchup with Portland State University and Indiana State University in the Colorado Classic. The tournament will pay dividends for both teams as they prepare for conference play beginning next week.

Normally the case in many rivalry games, emotions will be sky high. Coach Tom Hilbert will not approach the game any different than usual as a coach, but he knows his team will be fired up.

“When you play a high-level opponent, you need to get your game at a certain level of comfort for you and stay there,” Hilbert said. “We need to get to a certain level and hold it there.”

As a team leader, reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Katie Oleksak will be relied upon to calm those emotions before the game.

“Before the match, just being very calm and composed really helps you during the match,” Oleksak said. “Playing it like we would play any other game.”

Hilbert hopes his team can improve on limiting aces and winning in close-game situations but knows his team is capable of competing with the best in the country.

Team-leader Oleksak is also looking for the Rams to “fine-tune” some things, such as ball control, consistency and getting into a rhythm before the weekend.

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Revenge Game

Last season, CU stunned the Moby Faithful by taking the last three sets from the Rams to win 3-2, something the Rams have not forgotten about.

The CSU rams volleyball team glare at the official
The CSU rams volleyball team glare at the official to await his decision on who would receive a point during the September 16, 2017 game versus CU. (Matt Begeman | Collegian)

Sticking to his personality, Hilbert downplayed the idea of revenge, but realizes any time his team goes head-to-head with CU, they have to play their best.

“There’s nothing extra about it,” Hilbert said. “It’s just a rivalry game and people will be fired up.”

Oleksak, on the other hand, is excited about the opportunity of getting revenge in Boulder and looking forward to the opportunity of playing in a hostile environment on the road.

“It’s going to be especially fun to play in Boulder, at their are,” Oleksak said. “Tt’s going to be harder for sure because we won’t have our crowd, but I think it will be fun to play on their court and hopefully get that revenge that we want.”

Common Opponents

No. 11 Illinois is the only team that has met both the Rams and Buffs this season. Illinois swept CU in a neutral site game on Aug. 31 in the Pac 12/Big Ten Challenge. The Rams opened their season, in attendance-breaking fashion, with a loss to Illinois in five sets.

Interestingly, fellow Mountain West rival, the University of Wyoming beat CU in five sets in Laramie, Wyoming on Aug. 25. The Rams have yet to play Wyoming, but have two battles set for later this season.

Matchup to Watch

CSU’s Kirstie Hillyer and Paulina Hougaard-Jensen against CU’s pair of Smiths.

a player prepares to hit the ball
Kirstie Hillyer goes up for a hit during the game against Florida State. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Smith, leads the Buffaloes with 126 points and 108 kills this season.

“Alexa Smith is a fantastic volleyball player, (an) all-around player,” Hilbert said. “The more she touches the ball, the better off they are.”

Anyse Smith, a redshirt freshman, recorded 14 kills and a career-high .619 hitting percentage against Oklahoma. In the Buffs Invitational tournament, she totaled only five attacking errors in three matches.

CSU’s middle blockers Hillyer and Hougaard-Jensen will be tasked with stopping the duo.

Hillyer and Hougaard-Jensen lead the Rams in blocking with 45 and 40, respectively. If Hillyer and Hougaard-Jensen can limit CU’s offense attack then the Rams can be successful. 

The Rams will play the Buffs in the concluding match of the Colorado Classic on Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. 

Sergio Santistevan can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @TheRealsSergio.