CSU volleyball starts their Mountain West schedule with a win in Reno

Sergio Santistevan

Colorado State volleyball has often dominated conference play in the last decade, winning eight of the last nine Mountain West conference titles, but the Rams learned early that this season may be different.

The road to their 15th Mountain West conference title tipped off on Thursday night in Reno, Nevada for the Rams. CSU defeated the University of Nevada in a hard-fought four sets (18-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-19) to win their 12thstraight Mountain West conference opening game.

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From the start, the Wolfpack were determined to upset the Rams. Nevada took the lead in the early portion of the first set at 7-6 and never relinquished the lead from there, eventually exploding on a 6-1 run to increase their lead to six. The Rams were able to narrow the lead to one point at 15-14, but the Wolfpack went on two more runs to end the Rams comeback at 25-18.

Both sides hit the ball extremely well in the first set, as CSU had a hitting percentage of .303 and Nevada sat at a sterling .464.

CSU would come back to life in the second set as the visitors cruised to a 6-0 lead before swiftly extending their lead to 15-8. Nevada had moments within the set where it looked like they could swing momentum, but the Rams consistently recovered.

With both teams fetching for momentum in a 1-1 match, the third set was an all-out battle. The opening blow was delivered by the Rams who leaped out to a 4-0 lead, before allowing Nevada to do the same, knotting the match at four apiece.

Despite the back-and-forth between conference foes, the Rams’ leading hitters took control. Redshirt junior Kirstie Hillyer registered six kills in the tilting third set, a tally only bested by her teammate, redshirt sophomore Breana Runnels (7). 

Freshman Breana Runnels and Sophomore Kirstie Hillyer block an opponets spike at the CSU v. Fresno game Wednesday night. Photo by Olive Ancell | Collegian

The two continued to lead the teams’ hitting force by way of distribution from the Mountain West’s premier setter in junior Katie Oleksak who registered a game-high 42 assists. 

The Wolf Pack led the Rams at 23-22 before CSU was able to rally the last three points, led by two kills and a block from Hillyer to clinch a crucial set victory. The final five offensive points of the set for the Rams were all due to a kill from Runnels or Hillyer, with Runnels going on a four kill run to keep the set close. 

Reminiscent of the second set, CSU led most of the way throughout the fourth set. Jumping out to an 8-4 lead behind four errors from the Wolfpack, the Rams built their lead to 20-13 before Nevada even came within three points.

Trying to avoid a match-deciding fifth set, CSU forced 10 errors in the final set alone, with freshman Sasha Colombo registering the match-clinching point on a service ace. 

The 2017 Mountain West Newcomer of the Year winning Runnels added to her sophomore campaign earning her fourth double-double of the season with 18 kills and 10 digs.

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CSU will now shift their focus to their home-opener of the Mountain West season as San Jose State University will visit Moby Arena Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.

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