Nov. 12, 2011
By Nic Hallisey
Athletic Media Relations
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—No. 23 Colorado State was slow out of the gate for the second consecutive match, but this time the Rams weren’t going to let a slow start result in a crushing defeat, as the Rams rebounded to battle past New Mexico Saturday afternoon 3-2 (19-25, 25-14, 25-19, 22-25, 15-11) in a heated match to close out the conference season.
“We played well in the games we won,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert. “It was a tough, very competitive match, and it was good for us to get back in the win column.”
In all, CSU (19-5, 12-2 MW) set a season high with 19 blocks, and four players recorded double-digit kill totals. Junior middle blocker Brieon Paige was one of the offensive leaders, posting a career-high 16 kills on .412 hitting, also adding five blocks. Megan Plourde recorded 14 kills on .333 hitting, in addition to a match and season-most 11 blocks, including two solo.
“New Mexico came to compete, and it was a battle,” Paige said. “It was an aggressive match that we had to work for. The teams in the NCAA are going to be just as competitive. They’ll have that same fire, and we have to match that.”
Dana Cranston added a career-most 15 kills, four blocks and nine digs, while Katelyn Steffan posted 11 kills and a career-high-tying eight blocks. Three different players recorded 10 or more digs, paced by Izzy Gaulia’s 20.
The Rams fell behind early in the match due to several errors, but CSU was able to slowly chip away, cutting the deficit to 15-13 midway through the first set. A few points later, the Lobos (14-13, 6-8 MW) used their first timeout after CSU had cut the score to 17-16 on a nice Cranston kill from the corner, up against the net. After two New Mexico attack errors and another kill by Cranston, the Rams and Lobos were knotted at 19-19, but that’s as close as CSU would get, as New Mexico took the final six points, including a lengthy call reversal and a red card to close out the set.
Tied early at 3-3 in the second set, CSU got a sideout, and with Plourde serving, went on a 5-0 run that consisted of kills from Paige, Cranston and setter Deedra Foss, and blocks from Paige and Cranston. New Mexico got the next two points, but CSU was able to put up five of the next six points to force a Lobos timeout. From there on, New Mexico recorded consecutive points just twice—and never more than three in a row—as CSU cruised the remainder of the set for a 25-14 win.
“It (the first-set loss) kind of put us on edge and kind of made us want to compete even harder,” Paige said. “It gave us a fire. You could totally tell that the whole team had a spark going into the second game.”
In the defining third set, the Rams took a 2-1 lead in the match thanks to clutch hitting and blocking down the stretch. The set, which featured four lead changes and 14 ties, was knotted up at 19-19, with neither team ever leading by more than two. In fact, the two sides alternated points on 14 consecutive serves between the scores of 6-5 and 12-12. But 19-19 would be the last tie of the set, as CSU took charge, thanks to at least one kill and block each from Paige, Brummett and Steffan, all with Gaulia serving. The Rams scored the final six points of the set to win it 25-19.
Set 4 was no different, as both teams battled back and forth. CSU led by as many as three on several occasions—last at 20-17—but a 4-1 New Mexico run forced a 21-21 tie, the 10th of the set. CSU called a timeout, but New Mexico kept its momentum, taking the next two points, and four of the next five to win the set, 25-22.
In the deciding set, CSU never trailed, but New Mexico kept it close most of the way. The Rams led 8-7 as the teams changed sides, and were able to turn an 8-8 tie into a 10-8 advantage, forcing a New Mexico timeout. CSU extended its lead to 11-8 on the next play, burning the Lobos’ second timeout, but New Mexico wouldn’t go away, making it 11-10 a few serves later. A Steffan kill, followed by a New Mexico error gave the Rams a 13-10 lead before Cranston put the match away with the final two points.
“It’s good to get a victory like this,” Hilbert said. “We got to play a very tough match in the environment we’re going to play the Mountain West tournament in, so that’s good to get under your belt.”
The win closes out CSU’s conference season. The Rams will be back in Albuquerque Friday for the start of the MW championship tournament. No. 1 CSU will play No. 8 Air Force in the quarterfinals Friday at 6 p.m. MT. The full bracket will be released tonight, after all matches have been played and seeds have been assigned. Tickets for the tournament can be purchased online.