Nov. 2, 2013
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LOGAN, Utah – The ninth-ranked Colorado State volleyball team has experienced it all this season – five-set comebacks, 9-point rallies to win sets, and now a two-set deficit – fighting off two Match Points – to remain undefeated and establish a program record for wins to start a season.
The Rams (21-0, 12-0 MW) have experienced it all this season, except for a loss. By winning the final three sets against Utah State (15-8, 8-4 MW) at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Saturday, CSU did what no other team in the proud history of CSU volleyball has ever accomplished: begin a season 21-0.
“To me, what’s more magical is that we won this five-set match the way we did,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. “Twenty-one wins is great, but we’re here because we’re playing consistently well every night, and that’s what we’ve got to continue doing. Tonight was another challenge that we overcame, and I’m proud of our players.”
At first, it looked as if history would not happen, as CSU dropped the first two sets by scores of 25-20 and 25-21. It marked the first regular-season match since Nov. 10, 2011 – a span of 50 matches – that CSU has fallen behind 0-2 in.
“Utah State came out playing very well,” Hilbert said. “They do the right things against us. In the first two sets it was interesting because we were actually playing OK, but were making silly mistakes that cost us.”
The Rams out-hit and out-blocked Utah State in Set 2, but as Hilbert said, “couldn’t make a dent in Utah State.” CSU would chip away – getting within two in the first set and one in Set 2 – but couldn’t overcome the deficit.
His halftime message was simple.
“I told them that this is another chapter to our season, and that we can’t control how they play, we can just control how we play. I told them, ‘Let’s go out and try and be good and do it with composure. We’re in unfamiliar territory being down 0-2, but we’re still the same team.”
And that’s when the tide began to turn. The Rams limited the Aggies to .000 hitting in Set 3, recording seven blocks in the third set alone. CSU did not trail in the set, using a 10-3 run to take control after a tie at 4-4.
“I saw a team that was resilient,” Hilbert said. “We just refused to give up. We blocked really well, which put them in a funny position. You could tell that Utah State’s state of mind changed a little bit.”
The Rams led for a good portion of Set 4, as well, holding a 22-19 lead late. However, Utah State took five of the next six points to set up Match Point.
Utah State’s Hannah Gleason’s gave CSU life, though, as her serve went into the net. But on the next play, CSU’s Deedra Foss did the same, setting up another do-or-die situation for the Rams. CSU buckled down, taking the next three points – the final two coming on the swing of junior Kelsey Snider – to win Set 4, 27-25, and even the match.
“We could have lost it, but we came back and played better at the end of the game than they did,” Hilbert said. “We never got scared. I was really pleased with my team there. They had a shot to win it, and we took it away from them. I think we hurt their momentum twice.”
At that point, the Rams had all of the momentum, and it carried over into the deciding set. CSU took the lead for good at 5-4, when junior Marlee Reynolds recorded her 15th of her team-high 16 kills. The Rams would then take the next three points, giving the visitors an 8-4 lead as the teams switched sides.
That was the closest Utah State would get, as CSU closed out the set and comeback, hitting .571 (8-0-14).
“I sit back sometimes in awe of this group of players, and the things they continue to do in these tough situations,” Hilbert said. “I don’t think this is me as a coach. I think this particular group has character, and just have it. They have a magical way of competing and doing well in end-games. That’s just these kids; they’re great. I told them at the end of the game that it was kind of a magical night.”
The win was the first time CSU has overcome a two-set deficit since Nov. 2, 2011 against No. 5 Nebraska, and the first time the Rams have done it in a true road match since Nov. 10, 2000 at San Diego State.
Reynolds led all players with 16 kills. Joining her in double figures was Snider (14), Adrianna Culbert (12) and Michelle Lawrence (10).
Jaime Colaizzi posted a career-high 25 digs – her fourth 20-plus dig match of the season. Culbert (17), Foss (16) and Cassidy Denny (15) were also effective from the back row, as CSU posted 91 digs. Foss also added 53 assists.
While the back-row defense got it done, so did the Rams’ play at the net, limiting the Aggies to .139 hitting and recording 21 team blocks, a season high and the most since CSU tallied 26 vs. Cal State Fullerton in the 2010 NCAA tournament.
Senior Samantha Peters had a career-high 12, while four others had at least five, including Snider (career-high 9), Culbert (season-high 6), Reynolds (6) and Foss (season-high-tying five).
In addition to establishing a new program record for wins to start a season, the 21-match winning streak is the second-longest overall. Additionally, CSU extended its program-best true road winning streak to 14 matches, and improved to 12-0 in Mountain West play for the second time since the league’s inception in 1999.
“That’s a record that these players deserve all the credit for,” Hilbert said. “They’re just good competitors. They have a lot of grit and determination. You can say what you want about our schedule or whatever, but we haven’t lost in 21 matches, and we’ve been in some pretty precarious situations, and that’s pretty neat.”
The Rams will have a short turnaround, as they travel to Laramie, Wyo., to play Border War rival Wyoming Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT. The match can be streamed for free on the Mountain West Network.
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