Brynna DeLuzio assumed college volleyball, particularly Pac-12 Conference volleyball, was going to be a challenge that would take time to conquer.
The sophomore setter from the Colorado volleyball team still can't say it was an easy adjustment. Still, in short order, it was the Buffaloes' opponents who had to adjust to DeLuzio.
The setter with the rich CU family pedigree was one of the breakout stars of the Buffs' run to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, the first time in 20 years the program had advanced that deeply into the postseason.
In a matter of weeks DeLuzio went from a rookie battling for the Buffs' vacant setter spot to a bona fide leader of the team. As the No. 15-ranked Buffs prepare for their first matches of the season — they play Oral Roberts and North Florida on Friday at Wyoming, followed by a match against the host Cowgirls on Saturday — DeLuzio expects to further embrace that leadership role, despite playing alongside seniors like Naghede Abu, Alexa Smith and Gabby Carta-Samuels.
"Just coming in as a freshman, I had this whole idea that college volleyball would be a lot different transition," DeLuzio said. "Coming in and having the coaches be so good, and the players welcoming me and training me, it kind of clicked fast. I wanted high expectations of doing well and winning for sure. I'm more of a leader on the team now coming into my second season. We have new great players that we're going to see on the floor, and I'm trying to be to them how the older girls were to me last year."
DeLuzio's father played for the CU football team in the mid-1980s, and her aunt played for the inaugural Buffs volleyball team in 1986. She wasted little time adding to the family's CU legacy, winning the Pac-12's Freshman of the Week honor four times last season before landing on the league's all-freshman team.
DeLuzio reached the 50-assist mark in nine matches, and her average of 11.02 assists per set ranked third in the Pac-12 and 30th nationally. Working with a versatile array of offensive stars that included Smith and since-graduated outside hitters Joslyn Hayes and Frankie Shebby, DeLuzio almost immediately displayed a veteran-like savvy at keeping the ball moving across the Buffs' attack.
"It really was a blessing having her come in, and we didn't even know that right when she stepped in," Smith said. "Last year, and even this year, we have a lot of people who can hit well. And she did a good job evenly dispersing the ball and really finding the open hitters at the time. I think she did an awesome job stepping into the role."
Like DeLuzio individually, the Buffs are unlikely to sneak up on anyone this season after the breakout performance of 2017. CU's No. 15 slot in the AVCA national poll is the team's best preseason ranking since it was 12th in 1998. Continued improvement from a setter who already ranks among the Pac-12's best will provide a huge boost to the Buffs' chances of a repeat run to the Sweet 16.
"Setting is about hittable balls, and then being deceptive while you do it, and then making good decisions," CU coach Jesse Mahoney said. "She's always been able to set hittable balls. She's working on being more deceptive, and she's working on making better decisions. We work on those things all day, every day. And she's getting better at them, for sure. A snapshot of her today compared to a year ago is like night and day, and she was really good a year ago."