There has been a glaring void in the state's collegiate volleyball scene for the better part of the past six years.

It is a void Jesse Mahoney worked quickly to fill when he was named the head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes last December.

While Mahoney returned to his hometown of Boulder on the heels of a successful four-year run as the head coach at the University of Denver, he previously spent seven years as an assistant with the consistently successful Colorado State Rams.

Mahoney found it unfortunate the Buffaloes and Rams, by far the two most successful and visible volleyball programs in the state, had not met during the regular season since 2010. One of the first moves Mahoney made in his new office was to call his old boss in Fort Collins, Rams coach Tom Hilbert.

The pair quickly hammered out an agreement to reunite on the court, with the CU-CSU rivalry set to be renewed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at the Coors Events Center in the finale of the Omni Hotels Invitational.

If Mahoney has his way, a date with the Rams once again will be a regular highlight of the Buffs' schedule.

"We want to play good teams, and if there's a good team in our back yard we're going to play them for sure," Mahoney said. "I think it's important for the state to have two top-25 volleyball programs play each other. I think that's good for volleyball in our state.

"When I took this job last December, Tom and I talked pretty quickly about a continual home-and-home. That's the plan right now. We'll go there next year, and barring some unforeseen things that will continue."


Saturday's match will be the teams' first regular-season meeting since the third game of the 2010 season. The Buffs did travel to CSU for an NCAA Tournament match in 2014, with the Rams ending CU's season in a five-set thriller featuring a 16-14 score in Set 5.

The recent drought in the rivalry was a direct contrast to the template previously established between the programs. The Buffs and Rams met every regular season (often twice) between 1987 and 2004, squaring off again in the 2005 NCAA tournament before regular-season dates in 2007, 2008, and 2010.

Seniors Cierra Simpson and Katelyn Cuff, along with juniors Gabby Simpson and Anna Pfefferle, all played in the 2014 postseason showdown, though Cuff remains sidelined this weekend due to an ankle injury. For the Simpson sisters, Colorado natives, the opportunity to compete on their home floor against a rival that has made 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances already has the makings of a career highlight.

"I think I can speak for the team when I say everybody is really excited," said Cierra Simpson, who was recruited by Mahoney during his final year as an assistant at CSU. "The last time we played them it didn't really turn out in our favor, but it was a really fun game nonetheless. The rivalry is always really great and I'm stoked to have them back on our schedule. I wish that was something we had had in all my four years here, but I think moving forward that will be a good thing."

While the Rams generally have dominated the rivalry — CSU boasts a 23-11 advantage overall in the series and have won 12 of 13 matches since 1999 — Saturday's match might present an opportunity for the Buffs to establish a trend. No. 18-ranked CU already has dispatched ranked opponents, Penn State and Illinois in its two previous home matches. And after a 4-0 start, CSU brings a four-match losing streak to the Coors Events Center, though one of those defeats occurred against No. 2 Texas.

CU opens the Omni Invitational Friday night against Chicago State (7 p.m.) and takes on New Orleans at 11 a.m. Saturday.

"I think rivalry games are fun regardless what the sport is," Gabby Simpson said. "I'm really glad they put this on the schedule this year."

Pat Rooney: or