Rams volleyball pulls through to win Hilbert’s final home game

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Collegian | Serena Bettis

Outside hitter Kennedy Stanford (17) jumps to attack the ball while her teammates look to get into position at the Colorado State University volleyball game against the United States Air Force Academy at Moby Arena Nov. 12, 2022. The Rams won 3-1 in their last home game of the regular season.

Dylan Heinrich, Staff Reporter

Today’s volleyball matchup meant much more than just a win — as Colorado State University volleyball head coach Tom Hilbert has more than 800 career collegiate wins — but few have been bigger than this one.

Hilbert and the Colorado State women’s volleyball team secured a 3-1 win over the United States Air Force Academy during Hilbert’s final home game as coach Nov. 12.

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“It was a pause and celebrate moment for me to get to see these fans with that much appreciation … for really what’s been my life’s work, 26 years of doing this here. It was amazing to see.” -Tom Hilbert, CSU volleyball head coach

Before the action of the game, the team celebrated a tearful senior night for outside hitter Jacqi Van Liefde. She walked across the floor, flowers in hand, and was given a warm, emotional response from both her family and her teammates. Van Liefde, from California, spent all five years of her college career with CSU.

“Moby Madness has really been a huge part of my experience here, so just having everyone here to support me and to love me has been so huge and it makes all the difference,” Van Liefde said.

The Rams started the game slowly, dropping the first set 25-16 to the Falcons. Air Force spiked home 18 kills in the first set compared to CSU’s 9, while also only committing one error compared to the Rams’ five.

That marked the 10th consecutive set loss by Colorado State, capping off what was truly an ugly stretch. 

Things changed and they changed fast, as CSU jumped out to a 13-8 lead in the middle of the second set. The Rams kept the momentum rolling, winning the set 25-16. A major part of the attack was from junior outside hitter Kennedy Stanford, who racked up five kills and two solo blocks in the second set alone.

The next two sets were more of the same, as Colorado State pulled through to win the third and fourth sets 25-16 and 25-18, respectively.

“We started putting a real focus on our points-scoring game,” Hilbert said. “We need to block, serve tough, do the right things in order to score points. We weren’t doing that in the first set at all … we are a better team than that, frankly … so we just stepped up,”

CSU spread their attack throughout the lineup, with five players responsible for eight or more kills. Van Liefde was one of the beneficiaries, ending the match with eight kills, two digs and a .300 attack percentage.

“My big thing is just to humble myself, calm myself down and worship God when I’m out here,” Van Liefde said. “He’s my motivation for everything I do.”

After the match, Hilbert was greeted with a standing ovation from the audience alongside with his team and staff showing their gratitude toward the 26 years he spent leading the program.

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“It was a pause and celebrate the moment for me to get to see these fans with that much appreciation,” Hilbert said. “For really what’s been my life’s work, 26 years of doing this here. It was amazing to see.”

The Rams don’t have time to bask in the moment, however, as they head to Laramie, Wyoming, for the Border War against the Univeristy of Wyoming at 7 p.m. Nov. 15. 

“I’m still coaching this team,” Hilbert said. “We still have two more regular season matches, (the Mountain West) tournament, maybe the NCAA (tournament), so I’m still in that mode.”

Reach Dylan Heinrich at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @dylanrheinrich.