The University of Colorado women's volleyball team has been on a steady upward trajectory since joining the Pac-12 conference two years ago, and in 2013, coach Liz Kritza said she hopes to keep it that way.
"The steps we have made from the previous seasons have been small but noticeable, but we're not looking to make a small step this year," she said. "We are really looking to cement ourselves into the upper echelon in the Pac-12 this year."
Colorado finished the 2012 season 14-18, winning all but two non-conference games and picking up four Pac-12 wins. That's an upgrade from back-to-back-- six-win seasons in 2011 and 2010, but not enough to earn respect in a dominant volleyball conference like the Pac-12.
The Buffs start the season ranked 10th in the Pac-12 coaches poll, and Kritza said that's motivation for her squad.
"The team in general feels this need to prove themselves, which I love as a coach," she said. "I love having players in the locker room that know close isn't good enough."
To improve the team's Pac-12 record, Kritza will lean heavily on last year's freshman class, a group of women who often led the team in 2012.
When senior captain Kerra Schroeder went down last August with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, now-sophomore setter Nicole Edelman stepped up. The Boulder-native and Fairview High grad took over as captain after Schroeder's injury, and will return as captain for the 2013 season.
Sophomore Alexis Austin started her freshman season as a middle blocker and was working to transition to outside hitter when Schroeder got injured. Austin embraced her new role almost effortlessly and led the team with 364 kills.
"When Kerra went down, I was really thrown into my new position," Austin said. "I had to learn a lot more angles than just being up in the middle going side to side. I actually had to learn to use my arm swing faster and at different angles. I improved tremendously so hopefully this year I can see more improvements and make more as I go."
Sophomore Chelsey Keoho, who Kritza calls the "Flyin' Hawaiian" because she's from Kailua, Hawaii, also saw lots of playing time for the Buffs last year as a defensive specialist and libero. Kritza brought in four freshmen defensive specialists this year, so Keoho will have to vie for the starting job in 2013.
"She will throw her body at any ball on defense," Kritza said. "Her role is all going to be dictated in keeping as many balls off of the floor defensively, but also being consistent in her serve receive."
After missing almost the entire 2012 season, Schroeder decided to tweak her course schedule so she could stick around and play one more season with the Buffs. The 6-foot outside hitter will graduate in December after the season.
But Kritza said Schroeder knows some new talent cropped up to fill her position last year.
Schroeder will have to earn her way back onto the court for the Buffs, and Kritza said she's prepared to do that.
"She has worked her tail off and has been incredibly diligent in the training room," Kritza said. "She is ready and she wants to come back and resume her role in leading this group. In this year that she has been out and away from the court, the talent level has changed. It is a nice compliment to our program that I have a player come back in and say 'Coach this is going to be tough, but I'm going to work my way back into the line-up.'"
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