No. 12 CSU clings to five-set victory

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. – With first place in the Mountain West standings on the line, No. 12 Colorado State made a big statement, defeating the second-place UNLV Rebels on Thursday night at Cox Pavilion (25-12, 25-21, 27-29, 22-25, 15-13). The win extended CSU’s lead to two games in the conference standings.

“I’m always happy to get through a competitive situation and win, because it helps your team’s mindset,” Head Coach Tom Hilbert said.

The win is CSU’s 16th straight, the fifth-longest winning streak in program history. Even more impressive, the Rams (16-0, 7-0 MW) have now won 11 consecutive true road matches, which ties a program mark (also in 2003). CSU and Missouri are the only two unbeaten teams in the country.

After winning the first two sets and being within one point of a clean sweep — on three occasions – UNLV (10-7, 5-2 MW) came back to take the next two and force a fifth set. The Rams trailed late, 12-9, but finished the match on a 6-1 run to win the set, 15-13.

“We came back and thought we had it at the end,” Hilbert said of his team’s comeback in Set 3. “We had a couple swings to win it, but we ended up losing it, and then lost the fourth set, too. In Set 5, it was about who made fewer mistakes, and we made one fewer.”

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the match, CSU trailed for much of Set 3, including by as many as six and by four at 21-17. The Rams responded, though, with six straight points to hold a 23-21 lead, and had three match-point opportunities before the Rebels took the final two points to win the set, 29-27.

Senior Samantha Peters paced the Rams on both sides of the net with career highs in both kills (14) and blocks (11). She hit. 429. Marlee Reynolds had a team-most 16 kills, followed by Kelsey Snider’s 12 and nine apiece from Adrianna Culbert and Michelle Lawrence.

“Again it was about balance,” Hilbert said. “Marlee and Sam were good early, but Michelle wasn’t. Michelle was good at the end. Dri was good at the beginning and the end, but not the middle.”

About Peters, Hilbert said: “Sam is a mature player. She knows, first of all, how to not hurt us if she’s in a bad situation, and if she’s in a good situation she gets kills.”

Jaime Colaizzi had 22 digs, including several great plays in Set 5 to keep plays alive. The total was one shy of a career high. Four other players had at least 10 digs, including career-highs from freshman Cassidy Denny (15) and sophomore Kaitlind Bestgen (16). As a team, CSU had a season-best 15.5 blocks, and out-hit UNLV, despite hitting just .197.

The Rams led from start to finish in the opening frame, jumping out to a 4-0 lead and never looking back. CSU used another 4-0 run midway through to push its lead to 13-6, and led by a season-high-tying 14 points at 24-10, before winning, 25-12. The Rams hit .458 in the set, led by Peters’ five kills on five attempts.

In the second set, UNLV led early, 4-1, but a 4-0 run pushed the momentum to CSU’s side, 9-7. The Rebels would get within one, 13-12, but the Rams took five straight – four from UNLV errors —and led by at least two for the remainder of the set.

Despite trailing for much of the third set — including by as many as six and by four at 21-17 — CSU felt like it gave Set 3 away. The Rams went on a 6-0 run to take a late lead, 23-21, and had three match-point opportunities before the Rebels took the final two points to win the set, 29-27.

The Rebels continued the momentum from Set 3 right into Set 4. After taking an 8-7 lead, UNLV held on to the lead for the rest of the set as it took it 25-22.

In the early stages of the fifth set, it looked as if the Rebels were on their way to pulling out the surprising victory. Facing the adversity of being down 12-9 though, the Rams responded with an impressive 6-1 run to close out the match.

CSU’s last loss in a true road environment came on Oct. 25, 2012, at San Diego State. The Rams will face the Aztecs Saturday at 8 p.m. MT. The match can be streamed for free through the Mountain West Network.