New Colorado volleyball coach Jesse Mahoney leads the Buffs during spring drills Tuesday. Mahoney took over a team bursting with promise yet reeling from
New Colorado volleyball coach Jesse Mahoney leads the Buffs during spring drills Tuesday. Mahoney took over a team bursting with promise yet reeling from the twin stressors of disappointment and change. Go to BuffZone.com for more photos. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Colorado volleyball 2016 spring schedule

Saturday, April 2: at Wichita State and Kansas (at Colby, Kan.)

Saturday, April 9: at Wyoming and Colorado State (at Laramie, Wyo.)

Thursday, April 21: vs. Northern Colorado (at Coors Events Center)

Saturday, April 23: at Nebraska (at Ogallala, Neb.)

As if landing his dream job at the big university in his hometown wasn't special enough. Just a few days into his new gig at the University of Colorado, Jesse Mahoney received a memorable welcome-to-the-job surprise.

Shortly after settling into his new office, Mahoney received word that Alexa Smith, less than two years removed from being named the state's Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year at Lewis-Palmer High School, had been granted her release from Purdue and was interested in transferring back to her home state.

Mahoney had yet to finish unpacking, and already the problem of replacing graduated outside hitter Alexis Austin was solved.

"That was one of the first phone calls that I made," said Mahoney, who spent the past four seasons as the head coach at the University of Denver. "She was the best player in Colorado, in my opinion, in her class. She makes us better in every way. She's probably our best passer. One of our best defenders. Our best attacking from the left side. She's going to impact our program from day one."

Inheriting a CU volleyball program coming off a narrow, and deflating, exclusion from the NCAA Tournament that preceded the firing of coach Liz Kritza, Mahoney took over a team bursting with promise yet reeling from the twin stressors of disappointment and change.


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Their winter of discontent behind them, the Buffaloes reconvened earlier this month for the first spring drills under Mahoney. While the Buffs are experiencing the typical pratfalls of getting accustomed to a coaching staff — such as gauging expectations, meshing personalities and mastering new systems — Mahoney's first on-court challenge is to fill the voids left by Austin and another decorated senior, Nicole Edelman.

Smith essentially will replace Austin on the outside of CU's attack. Edelman, a setter who ended her career with 4,278 assists, has no obvious heir apparent, with Mahoney using the spring to experiment with one player who has never played setter before (Taylor Joachim) and another who earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 Conference honors last fall as a right side hitter (Gabby Simpson).

"We've had enough time to get the process started, but it's an ongoing process," Mahoney said. "Everyone is trying to figure out, 'What does it mean when he says this?' and the other way around, too. It's a big learning curve.

"I look at it in terms that everyone is a freshman again. Usually you have a bank of knowledge you can draw from. Things run a lot smoother because everyone is teaching themselves and each other, and right now all the information is coming from the staff to the players. The players have to assimilate all the information together instead of helping each other along."

Simpson said she set her sights on the 2016 season just moments after CU's name failed to appear on the NCAA Tournament selection show. And her older sister, senior-to-be Cierra Simpson, said the adjustment period has been balanced with early signs that Mahoney's system might be a better fit for the Buffs' personnel.

"It's almost bittersweet because we finally have this new coaching staff, new system, where you think it would have been nice to have this in the past," Cierra Simpson said. "It's really exciting because I know now we have the tools to have a really exciting season. Missing out on the tournament last year, even though a lot of it was out of our control, a lot of it was in our control. So we want to make sure that doesn't happen again."

Notable

Abbie D'Agosta, a freshman setter from Windsor, will not return to the team but remains a student at CU. ... While the coaching staff endured a makeover with Mahoney's arrival, Crystal Gippe remains on the staff as the director of operations.

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07