Rams charge to their third-straight sweep over conference foe

Luke Zahlmann

Adorned in state pride uniforms, with friends and family lining the stands, Colorado State volleyball swept their way to a perfect weekend over Utah State University Saturday night (25-15, 25-12, 25-12).

Coming into the match 3-15, USU played the role of underdog throughout the match. Following a 1-14 mark against the Aggies going into the 1983 season, the Rams had a 26-match winning streak prior to their homecoming matchup.

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An early 4-0 lead, including a pair of kills by redshirt junior Kirstie Hillyer, swelled to 9-2, forcing the visitors to burn their first timeout.

The momentum stayed with CSU for the entirety of the opening set. From the first point on, the Rams led the way.

Katie Oleksak(22) and Paulina Hougaard-Jensen(11) deflect the ball back down on to the Utah State defense (Devin Cornelius | Collegian)

The match was one of efficiency for the Rams’ offense. With a current hitting percentage that pales in comparison to last season, the offense showed another flash of last season’s success. The hosts held a distinct height advantage from the onset, utilizing Hillyer and junior Paulina Hougaard-Jensen to capitalize on the mismatch. 

The short-lived match came to a close with Hillyer and Hougaard-Jensen leading the Rams’ spread-out attack. Hougaard-Jensen registered 16 kills on a .727 percentage, both career highs, while fellow middle Hillyer tallied 10 kills of her own.

“Teams have kind of taken my cross-court shot away because they know that’s what I like to hit,” Hougaard-Jensen said. “Today they didn’t really so it felt good (to get that) ball again.”

After setting the tone in the first set with a .515 percentage, the Rams went on to post a .442 mark in the match, their highest of the season. The offensive onslaught was due in part to the members in attendance.

“(Family) is always such a great fan support. I definitely always want to put on my best game for my parents because they’re the most fun to have around.” Kirstie Hillyer

Effectiveness was in supply on both sides on the night as the hosts’ defense shined as well. In all, the Rams held USU to a lowly .104 at the net. The gridlock for their opposition is nothing new as the Rams had held opponents to a .172 percentage prior to their matchup with the Aggies.

Junior libero Olivia Nicholson subbed in once again as fellow junior Amanda Young continues to work her way back from injury. The former outside hitter accrued 12 digs in the match, just ahead of Runnels (9). The high digs total was an anomaly for Runnels who is better known for her striking abilities. 

“(Utah State) was targeting our off blockers,” Coach Tom Hilbert said. “They were playing a lot of balls to the front defender. There’s been some other teams that have done that too, they feel like they can get us.” 

Olivia Nicholson sets the ball to her teammates. (Devin Cornelius | Collegian)

The middle set for the Rams went about much like the matinee. Sans an early surge from USU, the hosts controlled much of the set.

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After an 8-8 tie, CSU rattled off 17 of the next 21 points. Once again spreading the wealth, the offense in the run featured four different hitters chalking up two or more kills.

The final set served as a broken record as the match-clinching set saw the Rams cruise to another lopsided tally, with multiple double-digit leads to show for it.

In the absence of a threat, the Rams supplied time to freshman Sasha Colombo. Coming into the match the outside hitter sat at 12 kills on the year. In the USU game alone, Colombo was able to rack up seven kills, a season high.

“I knew I wanted to get them both in,” Hilbert said. “I thought Sasha (Colombo) did a great job. I thought Jacqi (Van Liefde) still has a ton to learn but I was happy to get her out there and get her some swings.”

The team will soon add Young back to their lineup as well. The only holdup has been medical clearance, but the future has brightened with the specialist dressing in each of the last two matches. 

Riding the wave of their win streak, the 14-6 Rams will head to Albuquerque, New Mexico to face the University of New Mexico Lobos Oct. 18. 

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