The Rams swept the competition in 2019 Homewood Classic

Angel Cooper

Teamwork makes the dream work, as No. 22 Colorado State showed in their three home games this week. They were able to sweep the University of Northern Colorado and Cal Poly and picked up a 3-1 win over Oregon State. 

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Katie Oleksak (22) sets the ball while Breana Runnels (15) watches. The Rams beat the University of Northern Colorado Bears in three straight sets. (Luke Bourland | Collegian)

The Rams swept UNC on Sept. 18, picking up their seventh straight win. Despite a close start, the Rams were able to communicate and create excellent plays to help them beat the Bears 25-20, 25-14, 25-15.

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In their second match of the week, the Rams swept Cal Poly while holding their opponent to a negativing hitting percentage for the second straight game. The Rams cleaned up their errors and were able to shut down the Mustang attack thanks to good defense. The Rams set a new blocking record with 16 as a team, stifling the Cal Poly hitters throughout the game.

The last match with Oregon State displayed an oddity for the Rams with a losing set. Since the loss to Cal, the Rams have won 27 of their last 30 sets with all but two of those games ending as a sweep for the green and gold. This Rams still picked up a 3-1 win against the Beavers.

The Rams seemed a bit tired, but they never gave up, and they fought hard as a team to beat the Beavers.

In each match, the Rams had a player that stood out among the rest. For the game against the Bears, this player was Breana Runnels, the Mountain West Player of the Week coming into the Homewood Suites Classic. Runnels had 10 kills, four blocks, two assists and eight digs.

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Breana Runnels (15) goes up for the spike. (Luke Bourland | Collegian)

Every time the Rams made an error, Runnels was prepared to attack. Whenever the players felt down about themselves after a play or the team’s energy went down, Runnels was always there to cheer for her team and get them back into game mode.

“I feel like everyone has a responsibility for the team; I’m willing to be that outlet if things get jumbled,” Runnels said.

For Cal Poly, Katie Oleksak, the senior setter, stepped up to be a leader for her team. Communicating with her teammates and providing a spark for a Rams attack that Cal Poly couldn’t solve, Oleksak tallied 29 assists and nine digs. She also was one of the Rams that scored two service aces in the match.

“It’s a constant conversation out there,” Oleksak said. “Like if it is ever low on the court, we will be like, ‘Come on, let’s go.’ We kinda hold each other accountable, and if one person is cheering, it is like a domino effect. Everyone else starts cheering.”

In the last match with the Oregon State Beavers, Paulina Hougaard-Jensen took over the front court. Hougaard-Jensen put away 14 kills, five blocks and finished with a .400 attack percentage.

Paulina Hougaard-Jensen(11) spikes the ball past Cal Poly defenders, during a home game against the Cal Poly Mustangs. CSU wins three sets to zero.
Paulina Hougaard-Jensen (11) spikes the ball past Cal Poly defenders during a home game against the Cal Poly Mustangs. The Rams won three sets to zero. (Devin Cornelius | Collegian)

Head Coach Tom Hilbert was pleased with his team’s performance against the Beavers. They are now unbeaten through nine straight games.

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“The players stayed composed, and they did the right things at the right time,” Hilbert said. “We kept a lead the entire time in the fourth set and made plays when we needed to. We did good.”

Never once did the Rams say “I” when they talked about their matches. The Rams always spoke highly about each other and gave everyone credit for their contributions.

As a team, they were able to beat three matches from their non-conference schedule and be ranked 22 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association. 

The Rams play this week on Thursday, Sept. 26, as they’ll host the University of New Mexico to kick off their conference schedule. 

Angel Cooper can be reached at sports@collegian.com or via Twitter @angelcooper05.