CSU volleyball sets their sights on extending their season-high win streak

Luke Zahlmann

A pair of matchups on the weekend awaits Colorado State volleyball, a duo that will play a role in their postseason fate.

Going into the final month of the season, the Rams sit at 16-6, with an 8-2 mark in the Mountain West placing them second in the standings. Fresno State University sits atop the board, with an identical mark overall, but an 8-1 mark in conference, separating the two by half a game.

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A five-match win streak is at stake for the Rams. This streak began at the offset of their first multiple-game losing streak in conference play in over a decade.

We have been focusing a lot on blocking this season, and the work is finally starting to pay off.” -Paulina Hougaard-Jensen, junior

The Rams will face off San Diego State University Thursday, with the aforementioned FSU making their way to Moby Arena Oct. 27. The latter will serve as a Breast Cancer Awareness game, with the Rams’ faithful adorned in pink. 

In their opening contest, the Rams will once again face the Aztecs, this time at home. In their first matchup of the year, the Rams won in four sets, led by 17 kills from redshirt sophomore Breana Runnels.

The underclassmen-laden Aztecs have struggled this year, stumbling to a 7-16 record overall. Despite their struggles, bright spots have emerged.

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Paulina Hougaard-Jensen blocks the ball against Nevada on Homecoming weekend. (Erica Giesenhagen | Collegian)

Led by a trio of hitters over 200 kills, the attack of the Aztecs is one of distribution. Leading the facilitating of the unit in the two teams first matchup was sophomore Gabi Peoples who was taking over for junior Taylor Delaney in the game. Though still second on the team in assists, Peoples has once again begun to take over for the setting position of the Aztecs.

A pivotal point in the Rams’ season comes in the form of the Bulldogs two days later. Both jockeying for the lead in the MW, the two teams upcoming matchup has large playoff implications. The team is not letting them overshadow their other opponents though.

“(The) Fresno game will have an added importance because they are first in the Mountain West,” Kaite Oleksak said. “But the other games this week are equally as important to our success.”

In the last matchup between the two in which the Rams lost, the visitors struggled mightily with service errors, piling up 11 in the match. Serve receive was also a large issue for the Rams.

We missed a lot of serves and we got better at that during the course of the match,” Coach Tom Hilbert said after the match. “We never serve-receive(d) very well. We became very predictable.”

In the last iteration of their match, the Rams will bring an improved blocking force to the floor. Just last week, redshirt junior Kirstie Hillyer won MW Defensive Player of the Year as the Rams held their two opponents both under a .160 percentage at the net. 

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Alongside Hillyer is junior Paulina Hougaard-Jensen. Both middle blockers sit atop the team in total blocks, with Hillyer at 90, Hougaard-Jensen at a team-leading 95.

I feel like I have more control over my blocking this year,” Hougaard-Jensen said. “If the coaches tell me to correct something I’m able to fix it and show almost immediate changes. We have been focusing a lot on blocking this season, and the work is finally starting to pay off.”

Sophomore Katie Oleksak and Junior Kirstie Hillyer block the ball and put a point on the scoreboard during the fourth set of the season-opening game versus the Duke Blue Devils on August 25, 2017. (Matt Begeman | Collegian)

During their five-game winning streak, the Rams have dropped a single set, sweeping four of their five opponents.

The team also got back their libero in junior Amanda Young who was out for most of the opening portion of the schedule due to illness and a shoulder injury.

Her return gives the Rams another defensive piece alongside fill-in libero, junior Olivia Nicholson. The lineup will continue to flux, with Nicholson seeing time at libero, despite the return of their starter at the year’s onset.

“Amanda is a crucial part of our defense and serve-receive, so having her back, even if she is in a different role, has been a key to our success,” Oleksak said.

The Rams will begin their weekend homestand Thursday at 7 p.m. in Moby.

Collegian Sports Director Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.