CSURAMS.COM Preview: CSU ready for matchup with Kentucky in first round of NCAA Tournament - Colorado State University Official Athletic Site Colorado State University Official Athletic Site - Women's Volleyball
Preview: CSU ready for matchup with Kentucky in first round of NCAA Tournament

Nov. 30, 2016

NCAA First Round: Colorado State (21-8, 15-3 MW) vs. No. 24 Kentucky (22-7, 16-4 SEC)
Friday, Dec. 2 | 6 p.m. MT/5 p.m. PT | Seattle, Wash. | Alaska Airlines Arena
TicketsVideo | Radio | Stats | Twitter: @CSUVolleyball, @CSURamsGameday

NCAA Second Round: Colorado State/Kentucky vs. No. 7 Washington/Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Saturday, Dec. 3 | 8:30 p.m. MT/7:30 p.m. PT | Seattle, Wash. | Alaska Airlines Arena
Tickets | Pac-12 Network OR Video | Radio | Twitter: @CSUVolleyball, @CSURamsGameday

CSU Season Statistics2016 NCAA Post Season Guide Get Acrobat Reader

The Colorado State Rams will embark on their 22nd consecutive NCAA Tournament with a match against No. 24 Kentucky in Seattle on Friday at 6 p.m. MT/5 p.m. PT.

The winner of the Rams-Wildcats match will face the victor of 8-seed Washington and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the second round on Saturday evening. Washington is the host of the region, with all matches being held at the Alaska Airlines Arena.

The Rams received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament following a 21-8 (15-3 MW) season, good for second in the Mountain West. CSU finished with an RPI ranking of No. 46, one of three teams from the MW in the top 50. Three MW schools made the tournament for the first time since 2009 (Boise State, UNLV).

Five Rams received All-MW honors on Monday - Sanja Cizmic, Jasmine Hanna, Kirstie Hillyer, Katie Oleksak and Alexandra Poletto. Hillyer (Newcomer of the Year) and Oleksak (Freshman of the Year) also earned individual recognition.

The Rams have four players with NCAA Tournament experience. All four players (Cassidy Denny, Sanja Cizmic, Jasmine Hanna and Alexandra Poletto) played in the 2014 season, when CSU reached the regional semifinals following wins at Moby Arena against Denver and Colorado. Denny has the most experience of the group, having played five career NCAA Tournament matches.

CSU’s offensive efficiency has improved throughout the season, and the Rams now sit ninth in the NCAA in team hitting percentage (.286), while ranking No. 2 in team blocking (3.34 per set). CSU is the only team to rank in the top 10 in each category.

The Rams concluded their non-conference slate with a 6-5 record, going 2-1 at the Omni Invitational last weekend. CSU swept both New Orleans and Chicago State before falling to then-No. 18 Colorado in four sets at the Coors Events Center. The defeat was the Rams’ first to the Buffaloes since 2002. Sanja Cizmic and Katie Oleksak put up solid numbers in all three matches of the weekend, landing spots on the Omni Invitational All-Tournament team.

CSU opened the season with a 3-0 record, winning nine of a possible 10 sets against North Dakota State, Saint Mary’s and Northern Colorado. Rams freshmen Katie Oleksak and Olivia Nicholson combined for five double-doubles over the three matches.

Eight freshmen (including two redshirts) make up more than half of the team’s 14-player roster. Add in junior transfer McKenna Thornlow (North Texas), and there are lot of new faces on the court for 2016. CSU has only one senior - Cassidy Denny - on its roster.

Hilbert is in his 20th season at CSU, having taken the Rams to the NCAA Tournament every year of his tenure. He is accompanied by assistant coach Luke Murray (third year) and first-year assistant coach Emily Hiza, who joins the Rams after serving in the same role at Oregon State. Former CSU All-American and Canadian National Team member Dana Cranston will serve as a volunteer assistant this season.

With its at-large selection into the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the CSU Rams will be participating in their 22nd consecutive postseason. CSU’s streak is the seventh-largest of its kind in the nation. The only programs with longer streaks are: Penn State (36), Stanford (36), Nebraska (35), Florida (26), USC (26), Hawaii (24).

With its sweep of Air Force on Nov. 19, CSU reached the 20-win plateau for the 21st consecutive season, marking every year since 1995. Entering 2016, only Nebraska (40 entering 2016), Penn State (38), Florida (24) and Hawai’i (21) have longer streaks than CSU. In 19 complete seasons under Head Coach Tom Hilbert, CSU has averaged 25.68 wins per season.

The Colorado State Rams annually have one of the best home court advantages in the country, and currently rank 14th in the NCAA in average attendance at 2,245. The Rams’ match against then-No. 3 Texas brought in 6,253 fans, the fifth-largest attendance in program history. Only Hawaii, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan State have had larger crowds this year. CSU’s top attended match at Moby Arena came against Wisconsin in 2014, when 7,018 fans packed Moby. The Rams have not only had large crowds against top-ranked teams - they’ve also beaten many of them. The Rams have beaten nine top-10 teams at home, most recently rallying from a 2-0 deficit to beat No. 5 Nebraska in five sets in 2011. Five of those wins have come during Head Coach Tom Hilbert’s tenure, along with eight of the top-10 overall crowds.

With 22 consecutive berths in the NCAA tournament, CSU has established a winning tradition matched by few programs across the country. CSU is currently in the midst of its best three-year run in program history, going 85-9 (.904) from 2013-15 after going 26-4 last season. The stretch topped the previous best three-year period, 1999-2001, when the Rams went 81-9.

CSU boasts an all-time record of 210-148-1 (.586) against current schools in “Power 5” conferences - ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and the SEC. This includes a 27-10 record against SEC schools. CSU will play Kentucky (SEC) to open the NCAA Tournament, and also played Pittsburgh (ACC), Baylor and Texas (Big 12) and Colorado (Pac-12) this season.

CSU is ranked second nationally in blocking with 3.34 per set, picking up where it left off a year ago when the team ranked eighth. Kirstie Hillyer ranks first in the MW and fifth in the NCAA (1.58), while Alexandra Poletto is third and 38th, respectively (1.30). The Rams have ranked in the top-15 nationally in blocks to end the year eight times since 2007, including ranking second in 2010 (3.13). Olivia Nicholson has been a blocking machine from the right side during MW play, averaging 1.16 per set. Katie Oleksak ranks second among all setters nationally with 0.93 blocks per set.

The Rams boast a team hitting percentage of .286, which entered the week ranked ninth in the NCAA. CSU has hit .300 or better in 14 matches. The Rams boasted a slightly higher percentage in league play, posting a MW-best .293. CSU has also hit over .400 three times, including a season-high .500 vs. New Orleans (43-5-76) on Sept. 16. The Rams ended 2015 ranked 15th in the NCAA (.273) in the category, and have ranked in the top-20 nationally five straight seasons. The Rams hit an incredible .889 in the first set vs. Pittsburgh (Sept. 3), registering 16 kills on 18 attempts with no errors. CSU nearly matched that single-set output at UNLV (Oct. 8), hitting .720 with no errors (18-of-25).

CSU has boasted a varied offensive attack all season. The offensive cohesion is particularly notable, considering multiple players are new or in new roles. Sanja Cizmic had not previously been a regular starter on the left side, and she now leads the team in kills. Kirstie Hillyer is in her first collegiate season, and is averaging over 2.50 kills per set on better than .340 hitting. Olivia Nicholson is contributing nearly 2.00 kills in her first season and playing all six rotations. Katie Oleksak is 13th in the NCAA in assists (first among freshmen). Key returners have also been productive, with Jasmine Hanna boasting a MW Offensive Player of the Week award (Oct. 10) and Alexandra Poletto ranking posting 2.46 kills per set on a team-best .349 hitting.

Katie Oleksak has been very effective in providing balanced distribution to multiple attackers. Five Rams are averaging 1.94 kills or more, and all five have had 470-plus attack attempts. Five different Rams have led the team in kills at least once this year, and those five have reached double-figures at least five times each.

Freshman setter Katie Oleksak has stepped up in her rookie season in a big way. She is the only player in the country averaging 11 assists, 2 digs and 0.90 blocks per set or more. The Phoenix native is 13th in the NCAA (first among all freshmen) in assists, averaging 11.36 per set. She has also led the CSU offense to a .286 team hitting percentage (ninth NCAA). Oleksak has proven to be effective in multiple facets of the game. She is one of the top-ranking setters in blocking, averaging 0.93 per set. The Phoenix native is second on the team in digs (2.04 per set), registering double-digit dig totals seven times. Oleksak was also recently named one the NCAA’s top 10 true freshmen (any position) by FloVolleyball.

Redshirt freshman Kirstie Hillyer has been killin’ it in her first season of collegiate play, averaging 2.52 kills per set on .344 hitting. Hillyer had a personal-best 18 kills on .533 hitting in a critical five-set win over UNLV on Nov. 3. She also ranks first in the MW and fifth in the NCAA in blocking (1.58), leading all NCAA freshmen. Hillyer recorded her first collegiate double-double with 13 kills and 10 blocks in CSU’s five-set win over Wyoming on Nov. 22.

Junior outside hitter Jasmine Hanna has turned in some dominant offensive performances this season, especially the week of Oct. 6-8, which culminated in her receiving her first MW Offensive Player of the Week award. Hanna tallied 12 kills at both New Mexico and UNLV that week, hitting over .400 in each match. For the season, Hanna is second on the team with 2.96 kills per set, reaching double-figures in 18 matches. She’s also led the team in kills 11 times, and had a season-high 20 kills twice toward the end of the season - at Boise State and vs. Wyoming.

Junior outside hitter Sanja Cizmic has turned into a go-to player on offense for the Rams, leading the team with 3.06 kills per set. Cizmic has led the team in kills on 11 occasions this season and has hit double-digit kill totals 19 times. The Croatia-born player recorded a career-high 27 kills (.436 hitting) in a must-win five-set match against Wyoming to close the regular season. The 27 kills were the most by any CSU player this season, and topped her previous career high by nine.

Junior middle blocker Alexandra Poletto has eclipsed the .700 hitting percentage mark on four occasions this year, posting at least 9 kills in each match. She opened the year with a .733 clip against North Dakota State (11-0-15), and then went off at a .706 percentage (13-1-17) against Pittsburgh. The .706 mark was the second-best ever in five sets for a CSU player, ranking only behind Kelsey Snider against Cal State Northridge in the NCAA Tournament in 2013 (.762, 16-0-21). Poletto reached the plateau again against Nevada on Oct. 13, registering 13 kills on .722 hitting (13-0-18), then set a new personal best with an .818 mark (9-0-11) at Nevada on Nov. 12.

CSU has three players averaging at least 0.20 aces per set. McKenna Thornlow leads the team with 0.25 per set, followed by 0.23 from Cassidy Denny and 0.20 by Kirstie Hillyer. Thornlow has registered at least a pair of aces in 9 matches this season. Hillyer, a 6-foot-7 middle blocker, has been lethal at times from behind the line, including five aces at Boise State on Nov. 16.

CSU Head Coach Tom Hilbert won his 500th match at CSU on Oct. 13 against Nevada at Moby Arena. Hilbert became the 14th active Division I volleyball coach to reach 500 wins at their current school. Hilbert and the Rams have won over 80 percent of their contests together since he became head coach before the 1997 season (509-121). The Rams have won 20-plus matches in all 21 seasons under Hilbert, making the NCAA Tournament each year. CSU has allotted 18 conference titles during his tenure - 13 regular season plus five tournament championships.

Juniors Sanja Cizmic and Jasmine Hanna, along with freshman Katie Oleksak have earned spots on all-tournament teams during non-conference play. Cizmic was honored for her efforts during the Thunderdome Classic in Santa Barbara, Sept. 2-3. She registered double-figure kill totals in all three matches, including a career-high 18 against Baylor on .484 hitting. Hanna landed on the 2016 Rams Volleyball Classic All-Tournament team by averaging 4.00 kills per set over the two matches, and also added four block assists against No. 3 Texas. Cizmic again was honored, alongside Oleksak, during the Omni Invitational, where the Rams went 2-1. Cizmic recorded double-figure kill totals in all three matches while hitting .386 (14 kills on .571 versus New Orleans), while Oleksak provided 40-plus assists in each match (12.20 per set) and added a personal-best eight blocks against Chicago State.

Freshmen duo Katie Oleksak and Olivia Nicholson have registered a combined 11 double-doubles this season. Oleksak posted a double-double with assists and digs in four of her first six career collegiate matches. The pair has also posted a double-double in three matches together. Redshirt freshman Kirstie Hillyer added her name to the double-double chart for the first time with 13 kills and 10 blocks against Wyoming on Nov. 22.

Head Coach Tom Hilbert is 103-21 (.831) against the Centennial State, including going 4-0 in 2014 and 3-0 in 2015. CSU lost to then-No.18 Colorado in Boulder on Sept. 17 (3-1) and swept Air Force on Nov. 19. Hilbert has never lost a home match to a team from the state of Colorado, and boasts a 46-0 all-time home record against Colorado teams. The Rams’ last home loss to a team from the Centennial State came in 1995 to Colorado. All-time at Moby Arena, CSU is 57-5 (.919) against its Colorado foes – Air Force, Colorado, Denver and Northern Colorado.

Since the Mountain West formed in 1999, the Rams have won 13 regular-season championships in addition to five tournament crowns in nine years. The figure is more than all other MW teams — past and current — combined.

The Rams also won two HCAC championships in the 1980s, plus the WAC Mountain Division title in 1998, giving them 21 overall conference championships to their credit, more than any other sport at CSU. They have won either the regular-season or conference tournament title – or both – all but two years since 1998 (2005 and 2008).

Of those who have played four years under Head Coach Tom Hilbert, every player has won at least two conference championships, with all but three winning three or more. In 2014, Deedra Foss, Kelsey Snider and Marlee Reynolds became the third, fourth and fifth Rams to win five league titles. Jaime Colaizzi and Adrianna Culbert each completed their careers in 2015 boasting four titles in four years (2012-15).

CSU has fared extremely well in regular season tournaments. Since 2009, the Rams are 46-12 (.793). At home tournaments under Head Coach Tom Hilbert – since 1997 – CSU is 77-16 (.828).

CSU student-athletes earned a total of 82 Scholar-Athlete awards from the Mountain West for their class work in the 2015-16 academic year. Four of those athletes were Rams volleyball players.

Alexandra Poletto, Jaime Colaizzi, Grace Gordon and Alex Reid all received the honor. The MW Scholar-Athlete award is the highest academic honor bestowed by the conference. To be eligible for selection, student-athletes must have completed at least two academic terms at the member institution, while maintaining a cumulative grade-point average of 3.5 or better, and have participated in varsity competition in an NCAA-sponsored sport.

After building quality wins and a strong RPI, CSU was selected to host NCAA tournament sub-regional matches at Moby Arena in 2014. The Rams opened the tournament with a straight-sets victory over Denver before beating No. 19 Colorado in a five-set instant classic. The win advanced CSU to the regional semifinal (Round of 16) for the first time since 2009, and the 10th time in program history. CSU has qualified for the NCAA tournament all 19 years under Head Coach Tom Hilbert, and dating back to 1995, has played in the postseason in 21-consecutive seasons. It is the seventh-longest active streak in the nation and the 10th-longest in NCAA women’s volleyball history.

Colorado State offers fans and media members several ways to follow the CSU volleyball team. In addition to CSURams.com, which is updated daily with all of the latest news on CSU athletics, fans can log onto www.RamVolleyball.colostate.edu for an inside look into all things Rams volleyball.

CSU has also expanded its volleyball coverage on social media. Like the team on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/CSUvolleyball) and follow the team on Twitter and Instagram (@CSUvolleyball) for daily photos, videos and breaking news. Fans can also get insight from Coach Hilbert by following him on Twitter (@CoachHilbert). Those tweeting are encouraged to use the hashtags #PointRams, in addition to #CSURams and #NCAAvb.

For live, in-game updates for all 16 of CSU’s Division I programs, follow @CSURamsGameday on Twitter. The account provides up-to-date scores and insight for CSU athletic events.



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