CSU restores order in the Mountain West with sweep over Fresno

Sergio Santistevan

Pink Out, win out, and all seems right in the Mountain West again.

In their annual game in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness, the Colorado State volleyball team defeated Fresno State University (25-23, 25-13, 25-17) to move into first place in the conference.

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Kirstie Hillyer celebrates a good play in the game against Fresno State Oct. 27. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Coming into the match 17-6 and 9-1 in conference play with a win against the Rams earlier this season, the Bulldogs forced the Rams to enter the match in unfamiliar territory as the team that had to prove to be the Mountain West’s best this season.

In the three-set battle, both teams proved their worth to be atop the conference, but, in what Coach Tom Hilbert said to be the Rams’ best game of the season, the hosts were dominant.

In a loud Moby Arena, the Rams matched the energy of the Moby Faithful from the get-go, showing a lot of hustle in the early portion and gaining a 9-4 lead in the first set.

“We had a great crowd today and they really energized us. All of us kind of played off of (the crowd) and were more intense.”Breana Runnels

In the latter part of the set, the Bulldogs were able to tie the game up and remain competitive the rest of the way, but the Rams never let the visitors take control.

The Rams capitalized off of a .028 hitting percentage and 12 errors by the Bulldogs, utilizing their 6-foot-6-inch middle blocker, redshirt junior Kirstie Hillyer. Hillyer had four kills off of four attacks, totaling six points in the first set.

“We did a fantastic job offensively,” Hilbert said. “The distribution of sets was good…and we played with great maturity.”

Reminiscent of the first set, the Rams forced the Bulldogs to come back from an early deficit.

The second set remained highly competitive, yet the Rams never wavered, never trailing in the set. Their attack torched the Bulldogs late, going on a 15-4 run to seal a second-set victory as well. 

Showing signs of the prolific offense many expected at the beginning of the season, CSU hit a sterling .552 percentage. The Rams had 11 more kills in the set than the Bulldogs, with redshirt sophomore Breanna Runnels leading the club with five. Uncharacteristically, the Bulldogs committed a plethora of errors by way of the Rams’ pressure.

Coming out of the half, the Rams were eyeing a sweep of the Mountain West’s top team, but the Bulldogs looked to have other plans.

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The Bulldogs came out focused, forcing the challengers into five early errors. Freshman Sasha Colombo’s serving changed the momentum of the set by scoring five straight points with her behind the line. Capitalizing off the momentum, the Rams never relinquished their lead and earned a sweep over the Bulldogs.

Runnels and Hillyer led the Rams with 12 kills apiece, while Hillyer also tied the team lead in blocks with four.

Breana Runnels makes a pass during the game against Fresno State Oct. 27. The Rams swept the Bulldogs in three sets. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Unlike their last matchup with Fresno State, Hilbert alluded to a renewed passing precision, which opened the door for more options on the attack. The attack’s hitting percentage rose from .170 in their first match, to .323 in the latest iteration.

“Everything hinges on (passing). We passed much better,” Hilbert said. “There was tempo in our offense…we were able to keep things fast.”

Now in sole possession of the Mountain West lead, the Rams will look to continue their seven-game winning streak for the remainder of the season.

The team that last defeated the Rams, the University of Wyoming, will come to Moby Oct. 30 in yet another Border War matchup.

Hillyer knows that the Rams are a different team than the last time they stepped on the court with the Cowgirls.

“Our attitude has changed,” Hillyer said. “All of us have a determination to not let it happen again.”

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