BOISE, Idaho--#20 Colorado State used strong net play to turn back a fierce Boise State team last night in Bronco Gym in a thrilling battle between two of the nation's Top 50 college volleyball teams.
Despite the lopsided score in sets, the contest was close throughout, with Colorado State's biggest lead in any set being five points. In fact, Boise State raced to a 12-4 lead to open the game before a Ram timeout seemed to turn the match. Coach Shawn Garus' Broncos, who had dominated to that point, saw the Rams battle back little by little, chipping away at the big early deficit until they tied it at 18. CSU then scored seven of the final nine points of the set to win 25-20.
The second match was close throughout, with the teams seesawing back and forth. The Rams consistently blocked the Broncos at the net for points, and, even though Boise State had bodies in front of nearly every Ram shot, Colorado State was largely able to avoid the blocks and spike home winners. The Rams prevailed in set number two, 25-21.
The third set was a classic. Colorado State jumped to a 6-1 lead only to see the Broncos catch them at 19. The Broncos then moved one point away from taking the set and prolonging the match after a block by sophomore Kaitlin Oliver led to a Ram error. Garus' team led at that stage 24-21, but two kills by CSU's Alex Reid and a Bronco attack error enabled the Rams to stave off three set points.
Boise State then showed incredible fight. When Colorado State went up 25-24 and serving for match point, Sabryn Roberts drilled a shot for a winner. The teams continued to put on quite a show for the crowd of about 1,000. Olivier nailed another kill for a 26-25 Bronco lead and another chance to win the set. But CSU's Alexandra Poletto responded to tie the score. Colorado State had another match point at 27-26, but sophomore Sierra Nobley sent a laser into an open area to extend the set.
A kill by Julia Cubbedge gave the Rams another match point, only to be denied by a Katelyn Kinghorn smash set up by senior setter Sarah baugh. When Colorado State went ahead 29-28, another blast from Kinghorn tied the score as Boise State stopped their fourth match point. The Broncos had a fifth chance to win the set at 30-29, but Adrianna Culbert stopped that try with a kill. CSU again went ahead 31-30 only to see Katie Elgan save a fifth match point with a kill of her own.
A block by Colorado State's Acacia Andrews led to an attack error on the ensuing serve, and another Bronco attack error sealed the match for the Rams.
Boise State actually out-blocked their higher-ranked opponent 13-12. The difference in the game was that six Bronco blocks went out of bounds or landed on the Bronco side of the net, while the Rams had zero blocking errors. It was only a 6-0 advantage, but that difference was huge in such a close match.
The Broncos also played one of their best serving games, another category in which they trailed CSU statistically. Boise State made just one serving error all night to three by the Rams.
The other phase of the defensive game, digs, went to the Rams 57-47. The difference there wasn't ineffectiveness by the Broncos, as time and time again Maddi Osburn (14), Nobley (8) and Katelyn Kinghorn (7) made great athletic plays to keep the ball alive. Rather, it was good consistent play by Colorado State in which it seemed like the Bronco spikers could not find open holes in the Ram defense.
Despite Colorado State's proficiency at the net, Boise State still had plenty of chances to put home winners. The Broncos dominated the Rams in attacks, 139-116. However, many of those spikes went out of bounds, leading a big discrepancy in attack errors--25 for Boise State to 15 for Colorado State. As a result, CSU finished the evening hitting 31.0% to just 17.3% for the Broncos. Going into the clash, the Rams' ability to limit opponents hitting percentage was one of the biggest differences between the two otherwise evenly-matched teams. And it proved to separate the Broncos and Rams last night.
The Rams' three big guns at the net--Culbert, Acacia Andrews and Poletto--all were precise in their attacks, with Poletto posting a 50.0% hitting percentage, Culbert 34.4% and Andrews 34.3%. Preseason Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Culbert had a sensational night with a triple double (20 assists, 14 kills and 10 digs) do go along with three blocks.
Bronco senior Katelyn Kinghorn (9 kills in 19 attempts for a 42.1% percentage) was Boise State's most accurate hitter, while Oliver also starred at the net, smashing 10 shots in 22 attempts for a 36.4% hitting percentage. Sierra Nobley had 15 kills and 8 digs while Kinghorn had 7 digs to back up Boise State libero Maddi Osburn's 14.
Colorado State featured four players with double-digit dig numbers: Jaime Colaizzi with 16, Cassidy Denny with 12, Reid with 11 and Culbert's 10.
The Rams advanced to a perfect 9-0 in conference to open up a commanding three-game lead in the Mountain West race, and 16-3 overall. Boise State is now 6-3 in conference action and 14-7 overall.
Boise State and Wyoming will battle for second place Saturday afternoon in Bronco Gym. Boise State has been hovering around the #50 mark in RPI, which measures the nation's volleyball teams in overall strength based on schedule and results. According to coach Garus, that places Boise State on the bubble in their quest to become the first Bronco team to qualify for the NCAA National Tournament. The Cowboys are ranked just ahead of Boise State at #48. Wyoming and Colorado State were the last two teams to top the Broncos before Boise State went on their recent six-match winning streak.
The Broncos will go back to work today to learn from their mistakes in time for Saturday's match. Action between Wyoming and Boise State gets underway Saturday at 2 p.m. in Bronco Gym. For Bronco football fans, you will receive half-price admission ($3) to what promises to be another tightly-contested match.