The overall assessment offered by University of Colorado volleyball coach Jesse Mahoney regarding his team's performance during nonconference play is a mixed bag.

The Buffaloes still regret the matches that got away from them, particularly a five-set loss against Portland State on the season's opening weekend. Yet Mahoney also concedes his team got the job in a few games in which they entered as underdogs, such as home wins against ranked squads from Penn State and Illinois.

In the end it is an 8-2 mark and the No. 16 spot in the nation's top 25 the Buffs will take into their Pac-12 Conference opener Wednesday night against Utah (7 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain). As far as opening reviews go, the Buffs certainly have surpassed expectations as they look to stake their claim within one of the toughest volleyball conferences in the nation.

"It's really important to get off to a good start, especially at home," Mahoney said. "The (nonconference) is designed to get you ready for the Pac-12, and then it's designed to help you out for the postseason with RPI. Most importantly, I think we got better each weekend."

The Pac-12 begins the week with half its teams ranked in the latest top 25, headlined by Washington at No. 4. The only league with a greater top-25 representation is the 14-team Big Ten, which boasts the nation's top three teams and eight of the top 25 overall.

Utah isn't in that club, but the margin is thin. The Utes unofficially are ranked 30th in the nation, garnering the fifth-best point total among other teams receiving top-25 votes.


Among the focal points for the new-look Buffs this fall has been a more concerted effort to protect their home court at the Coors Events Center. Despite narrowly missing the NCAA tournament last season CU nonetheless did a commendable job in that department, finishing 7-3 at home within the conference and 13-4 at home overall.

The Buffs have won all five of its home matches this season and, dating back to last season, they bring a nine-match home win streak into Wednesday's contest.

"It's kind of been a whole change of mentality with new coaches," junior Gabby Simpson said. "I think one of the biggest things is it's hard to play here for other teams coming in. That's something special to us. This is our home and we don't want to lose at all here."

Utah brings a five-game win streak and a 9-2 overall record to the Coors Events Center, a ledger that includes a five-set rivalry win at then-No. 9 Brigham Young. CU and the Utes split their two matches last year, with both teams winning at home.

"I think for the first time in a long time we're being recognized, being ranked 16 in the country," sophomore Naghede Abu said. "I think people saw us as a team that wasn't going to do very well this year, but I think we're finally getting that respect a little bit. We have to win this weekend to maintain that respect."

Pat Rooney: or