FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State returned to the comfortable confines of Moby Arena on Thursday night to take on its Mountain West foe, UNLV, in a battle for second place in the conference.
The Rams (16-7, 9-3 MW) came out on top, defeating the Rebels (16-9, 8-4 MW) in straight sets (25-17, 25-16, 25-22). The victory marks the third time in a row that CSU has swept a Mountain West opponent, and moves them into second place in the conference standings.
Knowing the importance of the match, Colorado State set the tone early on with its strong defensive play in the back row, particularly from senior libero Izzy Gaulia.
“We did a better job defending their outside hitters than we did in Las Vegas,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. “I think it was a good match; we played well.”
After trading points back and forth, with no team able to gain a significant advantage on its opponent, Colorado State called a timeout trailing, 10-11. The Rams responded to the pep talk from Hilbert by going on an 11-3 run to take a 21-14 lead over the Rebels.
Although Colorado State did not register a single block in the first set, the Rams continued to extend the rallies and refused to lose long points. UNLV was held to just seven kills and .050 hitting in the first set, while the Rams racked up 24 digs as a team. Gaulia was particularly impressive, registering nine of her 19 digs in the first set, to help lead CSU to a 25-17 victory.
In Set 2, the Rams found their rhythm offensively, coupled with strong play at the net on the defensive side. Tied at 4-4, CSU used a 5-0 run with Dana Cranston serving to take control of the second set.
Again the Rams frustrated UNLV’s attackers, holding them to .083 hitting in the second set and forcing eight attack errors. CSU was led by senior middle blocker Megan Plourde and freshman Adrianna Culbert, who each tallied three blocks in the set. The duo also combined for seven kills on just 11 attacks with no errors. As a team, the Rams had 15 kills on .412 hitting to go along with six blocks, enabling them to take the set, 25-16.
In the final set, UNLV tried to put pressure on the Rams, taking an early lead. CSU took its first lead of the set at 7-6 and never looked back from that point on. The Rams led by as many as five points in the final set before putting away the Rebels, 25-22.
Cranston led all Rams with 10 kills, while Plourde and Paige each added nine. Freshman Kaila Thomas also chipped in with six kills and two blocks. As a team, the Rams registered 46 kills on .321 hitting behind great play from setter Deedra Foss, who tallied 36 assists. Foss became just the 10th Ram ever to record 2,000 career assists.
“When she has nights like this and is super deceptive, it’s a lot easier for us because we have bigger holes,” Cranston said of Foss. “Her working hard at that rockets our team to a whole new level.”
CSU will host Fresno State on Saturday in another matchup featuring two teams ranked in the top four in the conference. First serve is at 1 p.m. MT.