Considering Air Force had yet to win a game in any conference match, and CSU came in with a ten-match winning streak, Thursday’s match between the two teams was not supposed to be very close.
Apparently, someone forgot to tell the Falcons – in game three at least.
The final game in a CSU sweep turned out to be much tighter than most anyone expected, as the feisty Falcons held a lead as big as 15-10, and still led late in the game. CSU tied it up at 24 and then won the next four points for a 28-24 lead.
Air Force still wouldn’t go away though, winning two more points before sophomore Jaime Strauss finished off with a kill to win 30-26.
“They never gave up,” said senior Lindsey Hillegass. “It’s hard to get the ball down against them. They’re a frustrating team to play.”
Head Coach Tom Hilbert agreed with his player, crediting Air Force’s limited errors for the close third game.
“Air Force didn’t make mistakes and we got blocked several times,” he said. “As a result, they kind of hung in there and our players got a little uncomfortable in the new system started getting a little nervous.”
The new system was due to sophomore setter Ashley Fornstrom’s ailing back.
Hillegass, normally a defensive specialist, and senior Katherine Whitney, usually an outside hitter, shared the setter role in Fornstrom’s absence.
The changes didn’t affect too much in the Rams’ 30-21, 30-17, 30-26 win over the Falcons. Hillegass finished with 20 assists. Whitney had 22 and nine blocks.
“It was fun,” Whitney said of the shift. “It was new but we were pretty comfortable with it, especially after only practicing it a few times.”
CSU (16-6, 10-2) won its eleventh consecutive match, a streak dating back to Sept. 22. Their last loss was Sept. 16 at BYU.
It was the fifth straight loss for the Falcons (3-20, 0-12), who were plagued by
20 hitting errors in the loss.
Air Force kept it close throughout the first game, led by junior Katie Batchelder who had four blocks. The Falcons took the lead at 13-12, but CSU picked up the pace, capitalizing on kills from Whitney and Nelson for a 30-21 win.
Game two was not quite as close, especially after the Rams rattled off seven straight points to take a15-6 lead. Air Force pulled back within seven at 22-15, but their nine hitting errors doomed them in the 30-17 loss.
CSU, tied with Brigham Young in second place in the Mountain West, next travels to play at San Diego State on Nov. 10.
Volleyball beat writer Jeff Dillon can be reached at email@example.com.