Nov. 29, 2013
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By Craig Buchanan
Athletic Media Relations
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – The Colorado State Rams (28-1, 19-1 MW) capped their historic season in tremendous fashion Friday, with a dominating three-set sweep (25-15, 25-9, 25-21) over the UNLV Rebels in front of 4,681 eager fans at Moby Arena.
Before the match started, the Rams celebrated their three seniors – Cayla Broadwater, Samantha Peters and Michelle Smith – for Senior Night, and after the match, the Rams celebrated their fifth-consecutive Mountain West championship with a trophy presentation.
“After losing as much star-power as we lost last year, the biggest trait that came out of this year is unselfishness,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. “This team has shown that unselfishness and discipline can win a lot of games.”
After suffering a tough loss Wednesday, which ended CSU’s run at perfection, the team left little doubt as to how it would respond. Freshman outside hitter Michelle Lawrence led all players with 11 kills, while junior outside hitter Marlee Reynolds and Peters each added 10 kills, as the Rams hit .337 as a team.
“It is an indescribable experience,” Lawrence said of the conference championship. “Who knew at the beginning of the season that we would go 28-1.”
Even more impressive than Colorado State’s high-flying offense, however, was its scrappy defense. Sophomore libero Jaime Colaizzi consistently extended long rallies with diving digs that brought the crowd – which ranked 11th in CSU history – to its feet. On the night, Colaizzi registered 22 digs, her eighth 20-plus dig match of the season, and the Rams out-dug the Rebels, 61-34.
With added pressure to aggressively go for kills because of CSU back-row defense, UNLV (16-14, 11-9 MW) had 21 attack errors and were blocked five times at the net. The Rebels were limited to just a .034 hitting percentage, and failed to hit above .081 in any of the three sets.
“That was a rough loss on Wednesday, and we wanted to come back,” Peters said. “I know us seniors wanted to get a win on our Senior Night. We have such a great team behind us; I know that they wanted to win for us, and for themselves, so we weren’t going to let anyone stand in the way of that.”
CSU put its stamp on the match right away with a 7-1 run early in the opening set. The Rebels clawed back to make it 9-7, but once again the Rams put together another 7-1 run to double up UNLV at 16-8. While UNLV’s senior outside hitter Sekola Falemaka did her best to keep the Rebels within reach with eight kills and one error, it wasn’t enough as CSU won the set, 25-15.
In Set 2, CSU's defense clamped down even more, and forced UNLV into eight attack errors and a -.027 hitting percentage. The Rams were especially impressive in neutralizing Falemaka’s presence in the match. After her great first set, Falemaka was held to two kills and three attack errors on 21 swings for the remainder of the contest.
Behind nine combined kills in Set 2 from Reynolds and junior middle blocker Kelsey Snider, the Rams raced out to a 12-1 lead. In the set, CSU had 15 kills and zero attack errors, while holding UNLV to just nine points in the set. It marked the first time since Nov. 17, 2012 at Boise State that CSU has held an opponent to single digits in a set.
Coming out of the intermission, the Rebels played with more energy and took four of the first five points. As it has done for most of the season, however, CSU quickly responded with a 9-2 run to take a 10-6 lead. The third set in particular featured numerous competitive rallies. Led by Colaizzi’s and sophomore right-side hitter Adrianna Culbert’s combined 18 digs in the set, CSU tallied 27 digs as a team in the frame as the Rams held off UNLV in the final set, 25-21.
Culbert finished the match with 16 digs, falling one short of her career high. Freshman defensive specialist Cassidy Denny also reached double figures for the Rams with 10 digs, while junior setter Deedra Foss paced the way for the offense with 41 assists and four kills, plus a team-high three blocks.
With the win, CSU guaranteed itself the best winning percentage in program history (no worse than .933).
CSU, which received the Mountain West's automatic bid, will now await its fate for the NCAA tournament. Matchups and locations for the NCAA tournament will be announced with a selection show that begins at 7:30 p.m. MT on Sunday, and will be televised on ESPNU. CSU will host a watch party at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop beginning at 6:30 p.m. MT, and fans are encouraged to join.