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Volleyball claims MW Championship with sweep over Boise State

Colorado State volleyball honored five seniors on Saturday before their final regular season home game. The seniors went out with a bang as the Rams claimed the Mountain West Championship for a third-straight year.

Kirstie Hillyer, Paulina Hougaard-Jensen, Jessica Jackson, Olivia Nicholson and Katie Oleksak are the five seniors who will be leaving the CSU volleyball program after the end of the 2019 season. These five are leaving quite a legacy behind after donning the green and gold for a collective 524 matches.

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“I think the legacy we are creating right now, it can only go forward from here,” Oleksak said. “Hopefully, hosting and making a long run in the tournament. Just being that team that people will remember is pretty sweet.”

Junior Alexa Roumeliotis and the rest of her teammates on the court huddle to celebrate earning a point during the second match. (Lucy Morantz | Collegian)

The accolades these players have achieved in their years playing for CSU are impressive, to say the least.

Hillyer, a redshirt in her first year, was named Mountain West Newcomer of the Year in 2016 and AVCA Honorable Mention All-America in 2018. The 6-foot-6-inch middle blocker also recorded her 500th career block and 1,000th career kill during this season. 

Hougaard-Jensen has been part of the volleyball program for four years now. She received Mountain West Scholar Athlete in 2016, 2017 and 2018; Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week in 2017; and Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week in 2018.

Jackson, another redshirt senior, racked up 452 career kills while hitting at a mark of .190. Jackson sat out her freshman season due to an Achilles injury but recovered from an ailment that could have derailed her career.

Nicholson received Mountain West Scholar Athlete in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and Mountain West Academic All-Conference in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Tallying 335 career kills with a hitting mark of .222, Nicholson stepped up for the Rams this season when Hougaard-Jensen had to sit out with a lower-body injury. 

Last and certainly not least is Oleksak. Oleksak was named Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2016; Mountain West Academic All-Conference in 2016 and 2017; Mountain West Player of the Year in 2017 and 2018; AVCA All-Pacific North Region in 2016, 2017 and 2018; AVCA Honorable Mention All-America in 2017, 2018 and 2019; and Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019.

The Rams were able to send their seniors off with a final sweep at Moby Arena against the Boise State Broncos (25-21, 25-19, 25-15)

While the rest of the team receives their Mountain West Championship hats and T-shirts, junior Breana Runnels hugs her teammate, senior Katie Oleksak. (Lucy Morantz | Collegian)

CSU looked a little slow to start, as the Broncos led for most of the first set, but the Rams got it together after their first timeout. Hillyer came back in with two blocks and two kills. She brought the team’s energy up with her enthusiasm, which helped because the Rams had back-to-back-to-back blocks, taking a 18-15 lead part-way into the first set. The Broncos needed to take a timeout, but CSU was able to win the first set with communication and energy.

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“Boise was doing some good things,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. “I think they out-served us today in terms of difficulties, and they miss less. So they were really good in terms of serving. What we (did) well was blocking. We had 16 blocks in three sets. I was pleased to win this. This was a really fun match.”

The Rams kept their high energy for sets two and three and broke out the brooms en route to their 21st Mountain West Championship and their 16th regular season title.

Hilbert had his moments throughout this match. Hilbert was anxious about the errors his team kept making, but his worries went away as the match progressed.

“I was an emotional wreck,” Hilbert said. “In the beginning of this game, I had super high anxiety that I thought I was going to get sick.”

All things must come to an end, but the Rams still need to finish their season. They have three more games on the road. Keep a lookout for the CSU volleyball team because they still are trying to secure a bid as a host for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament here in Fort Collins.

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

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