Beaulieu: Rams’ volleyball set to re-establish dominance very soon

Mack Beaulieu

The Colorado State volleyball team has faced an unusual amount of adversity this season. Not yet out of danger, the coming week will give the Rams a huge chance to re-establish themselves as the class of the Mountain West.

Having matched their loss total from last season by the 12th match of this season along with losing two of their first four conference matches, the Rams’ season has come with a little more intrigue than most in their recent history of dominance. In the next week, the Rams will face the two conference foes that have beat them so far this season in a sort of round-robin slate for the Mountain West lead.

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“We definitely didn’t like that feeling (of the losses) at all,” junior middle blocker Kirstie Hillyer said. “We’ve been working a lot on how to avoid those losses, but I think it’s given us a lot more determination to come back and fight for what we want and that’s the conference championship.”

Sophomore Kirstie Hillyer takes a middle spike at the CSU v. Fresno game Wednesday night. Photo by Olive Ancell | Collegian

The Rams have reeled off five-straight wins since losing to the University of Wyoming in their first meeting of the season in Laramie after they fell to Fresno State University the game before. This weekend, the Rams will take on the first-place Bulldogs and then host the third-place Cowgirls in this year’s edition of the Border War.

The Rams’ winning streak has come along with two Player of the Week awards as the Rams are making use of their talented middle blockers on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

“(Fresno State and Wyoming) both beat us by serving us tough and being able to defend, in particular, our middle attacks,” Coach Tom Hilbert said, “We were much more dimensional because we weren’t handling the ball…  In neither one of those matches did we really disrupt the other team very much and we’re getting a little bit better at that; we’re blocking it better, serving a little bit better too.”

If they are able to get a win against San Diego State University, who’s .500 in the Mountain West but 7-16 overall, the Rams will play in a matchup with the Bulldogs for first place in the conference.

Whether it will be an outright lead will also depend on the Bulldogs’ outcome with the Cowgirls on Thursday, which kicks off a week-long stretch that will feature all three of the Mountain West’s top teams playing each other. It represents a chance for the Rams to avenge their only losses of the conference season.

After rising out of the last few downtrodden seasons, the Bulldogs have been a force over the first half of Mountain West play, challenging the Rams as the conference’s top dog.

“We’re just looking to excel in every part of the game,” junior Breanna Runnels said. “Especially against Fresno State because they’re playing really well and have obviously had control over the season so we kind of want to take that control away from them.”

While the match-up against Fresno State is clearly very important in the standings, the next match will be a little more personal and could very well shake out to be another first-place battle in a high stakes Border War showdown.

There are a lot of ifs in the week-long scenario that is about to play out in the Mountain West, but what is almost certain is that it will play a huge role in determining the Mountain West’s champion this season.

“Really, it’s everything,” Hilbert said. “(Fresno State and Wyoming) are the two teams that we’re kind of clumped with at the top of the Mountain West. Whoever comes out of this little cluster with two wins is going to be in the driver’s seat.”

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Mack Beaulieu can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Mack_Covers.