Rams suffer a bittersweet ending to their title-winning regular season

Luke Zahlmann

It is well understood throughout Colorado State volleyball that personal records are a secondary priority to team wins.

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Redshirt sophomore Breana Runnels and her team-high 23 kills were not enough to give the Rams the latter as the hosts fell in five sets against the University of New Mexico in their final match of the regular season (22-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-17, 14-16).

The loss ended a 12-game winning streak and home-court winning streak against conference opponents dating back to 2013 for the newly-minted Mountain West Conference champions. The trio of dropped frames brought the Rams’ total to six in their last 13 matches combined.

girl jumps for ball
Redshirt sophomore Breana Runnels rises for a spike against the University of New Mexico. (Susie Heath | Collegian)

Entering the final contest, Runnels trailed only Danielle Minch in the modern scoring era (426). Now at a record-breaking 433, the accolade comes just a year after former Rams’ hitter Jasmine Hanna set the programs’ record for total career kills in the modern scoring era.

For Runnels, the loss dampened the impact of the record though.

“Losing never feels good,” Runnels said. “I think it just kind of shows us what we need to expect going into the tournament. We (hadn’t) had a five-set match in a while.”

After leading the team last year in kills (367), the accolade was one that Coach Tom Hilbert saw coming, with higher milestones in the hitters’ future.

“I think Breana is going to have a record-setting career,” Hilbert said. “She’s a very mentally tough kid, obviously she can improve and she knows it. But it doesn’t surprise me that she broke that record and won’t surprise me if she becomes the all-time kill leader.”

Despite a lack of conference implications, a loss in the match served to negatively affect the Rams’ RPI prior to the Division I Volleyball Selection Show Nov. 25th.

The trouble for the hosts began in the first set with five service errors. Despite outhitting the Lobos in percentage, the miscues allowed the Lobos to take control. The blocks were also even at two apiece, leaving the errors as the lone statistical deficiency.

After setting a program record for most single-season service aces by a team, the same facet hindered the Rams’ best efforts. A total of seven aces was unable to overcome the teams’ 16 errors at the back line.

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The number of errors from their service was the highest mark in a match of the Rams’ season.

“We have a lot to be proud of this year. Back in 2009, we lost our last home match and won the conference just like we did this year. We went to the Sweet 16 that year so these (loses), you gotta brush em’ off learn from em’.”Tom Hilbert

Prior to the match, the Rams posted an attack that registered a Mountain West Conference-leading .268 hitting percentage. On the opposing side, the Lobos’ attack was a polar opposite prior to their final meeting.

The visitors had registered a .178 percentage of their own, second-to-last in the conference.

Throughout the match, the two teams stayed true to their roles with the Rams outhitting the Lobos .185 to .107. The overall lack of efficiency at the net came as a product of serving woes for stalwart junior Katie Oleksak.

“I just think I wasn’t connecting as well as I should’ve been, especially with the middles,” Oleksak said. “I think it kind of got better throughout the match.”

Despite the loss, the Rams were able to hoist their eighth MW title in the last nine years, with a guaranteed spot once again in the NCAA tournament for Hilbert’s squad.

The loss brought about memories of the 2009 season for Hilbert.

“We have a lot to be proud of this year,” Hilbert said. “Back in 2009, we lost our last home match and won the conference just like we did this year. We went to the Sweet 16 that year so these (loses), you gotta brush em’ off learn from em’.”

The Rams now await the announcement of their placement in the NCAA Tournament in the aforementioned selection show.

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