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CSU volleyball clinches playoff spot with sweep

Colorado+State+University+outside+hitter+Annie+Sullivan+%282%29+and+middle+blocker+Naeemah+Weathers+%289%29+attempt+to+block+a+hit+from+The+University+of+New+Mexico+Lobos+Nov.+16.
Collegian | Avery Coates
Colorado State University outside hitter Annie Sullivan (2) and middle blocker Naeemah Weathers (9) attempt to block a hit from The University of New Mexico Lobos Nov. 16. Sullivan and Weathers were both game leaders for CSU in kills with 16 and 10 respectively. This greatly contributed to CSU’s win over the Lobos of 3-0.

Colorado State knew when they walked on the court against New Mexico that the match was going to be a battle. 

Both teams were locked in a three-way tie for second place in the Mountain West, and the winner would have a serious advantage heading into the conference tournament the following week, including a potential bye from the first round.

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With the help of a season-defining night from Annie Sullivan and great defensive execution, CSU refused to back down from the challenge, sweeping the Lobos (26-24, 26-24, 25-18) and clinching a playoff spot.

Coach Emily Kohan praised her team’s ability to step up and perform when the time demanded it.

“(Getting the win) is huge right, and to be able to do it in a sweep I think shows that our team was taking it seriously,” Kohan said. “We got put into those endgame situations in those first two sets and to be able to be mature servers when we started a little shaky from the service line when it mattered I think is what I’m proud of the most.”

Sullivan found her rhythm early and did not let up on the gas once. Tallying 16 kills on the night, the outside hitter hit .414 on 29 attacks. Sullivan knew the stakes of the matchup, and said she made sure she executed to help her team to the victory.

“We want to get to the conference tournament and we want to get second place,” Sullivan said. “And being tied with them, that was a lot of fuel for us. They’re a really good team so it was just a lot of motivation to come out tonight.”

Kohan knew coming in to the match Thursday night that she would be able to count on Sullivan.

“She’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever coached,” Kohan said. “She’s also somebody that in the biggest moments plays the best volleyball.”

Sullivan may have been the star, but it became evident as the match progressed that every member of the squad showed up intending to walk away with the playoffs clinched. Naeemah Weathers recorded 10 kills on .500 hitting, Emery Herman tallied 47 assists, and Anna Porter racked up 3 service aces.

The Rams improved to a 2-0 record over the Lobos on the season, sweeping them in both contests. Kohan praised her team’s defensive execution to keep the offensive might of UNM at bay.

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“I’m really proud of our blocking,” Kohan said. “That was something all week coming into (face) New Mexico that we knew we had to contain their two best hitters and I think (Uxue Guereca) hit zero. To be able to put up the correct blocks, to not only stuff the seven and a half of them, but also funnel them to the right places so the floor defense could get some nice digs, I think is really awesome because those two kids over there are really talented.”

Fighting to give their offense as much of a chance as possible, CSU’s defense certainly stepped up to the task. Porter and Kate Yoshimoto racked up 10 and six digs respectively, and the team tallied seven and a half total blocks, with Karina Leber recording five of them.

For Sullivan and the Rams, great team defense was the focal point coming into the match.

“Defense is something that we’ve been stressing a lot this week, especially blocking and floor defense,” Sullivan said. “(The team) just came out and scrapped it up a lot, especially in the third set. I know Anna had some key digs in (those) last couple (of) points, so they just played really well.”

In a season that has seen the team lose multiple matches after leading 2-0, the Rams knew they needed to execute in the third set.

Execute they did. CSU saw a marked improvement in their hitting in the third set, hitting .486, much higher than the .242 and .205 of previous two sets. Weathers said when they entered the final set of the match, they knew they had to be on the top of their game.

“Whenever we go for our break between the second and third set, we go out into the hallway and we talk to each other,” Weathers said. “One of the things that we said is that we’ve sat in this exact same position and you know, we’ve had outcomes that we haven’t really wanted. … So we went out there and we were like ‘Okay, when we come in, we have to put our pedal to the metal and not let up at any point.’ That was definitely our mentality.”

The Rams will stay at home for their final game of the regular season against Air Force at 6:00 p.m. on Nov. 18 in Moby Arena.

Will Engle can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @willengle44.

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