After ascending to the program's best national ranking in 18 years, the Colorado Buffaloes will have to grow accustomed to facing a determined effort from the opposition every night.
When that sort of effort collides with one of the Buffs' most error-prone matches of the season, as it did Wednesday night against Utah, it makes for a short shelf life for CU's No. 16 ranking.
Taking advantage of CU's inconsistent night, the Utes stunned the Buffs in both teams' Pac-12 Conference opener, with Utah prevailing 20-18 in a wild Set 5 to hand CU its first home loss of the season.
"It was a really uneven match. The first four sets, none of them were competitive. Somebody was out ahead early and just kind of steamrolled," CU coach Jesse Mahoney said. "But (set 5) was a really good, well-played, competitive match on both sides.
"If we pass well, we're a good team. And if we don't, we become predictable and struggle to score. You can look at sets two and three that we won, and we passed really well. We'll find a way to learn from it and regroup."
CU started slowly, as 10 attack errors in the opening set led to a 25-18 loss. The Buffs battled back to win the second set 25-15 and had a chance to close out the victory after a 25-21 decision in set 3, but another error-filled 25-16 loss in set 4 set the stage for a spirited decisive fifth set.
Utah held a 12-9 lead late in the fifth before the Buffs tallied three straight points to draw even. The Buffs reached match point on three separate occasions, the last of which was at 18-17, but were unable to clinch the win. The Utes scored the final three points to end CU's four-game win streak.
CU finished with a season-most 27 attack errors and also recorded eight service errors, the team's second-highest mark of the season.
"Volleyball is a game of being disciplined, but it's also a very mental game," said junior Joslyn Hayes, who finished with 11 kills and four blocks. "I think we were over-thinking things that we know exactly how to do and we know how to refocus and fix. And we didn't do that faster. I think ultimately that's what killed us."
Despite the loss it was a historic night for CU senior Cierra Simpson, who became the program's all-time leader in overall digs. Simpson tallied 23 digs against the Utes, giving her 1,544 for her career and moving her past Karrie Downey's former record of 1,540.
Alexa Smith led CU with 18 kills and Gabby Simpson added 11 but it wasn't those players' most efficient night, as they combined for 17 of the Buffs' 27 attack errors.
"I am definitely very honored and very thankful for that (record)," Cierra Simpson said. "I've mentioned his before but I really couldn't do it without my blockers. They make my life a lot easier back there. If I didn't have them it would be really hard. I couldn't do it without my team."
The Buffs will look to get back on track Sunday in a home match against Arizona (1 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
Utah 3, No. 16 Colorado 2
At Coors Events CenterUtah (10-2) 25 15 21 25 20 Colorado (8-3) 18 25 25 16 18
Kills — Utah: Anae 27, Luafalemana 10, Katoa 9; CU: Smith 18, G. Simpson 11, Hayes 11.
Blocks — Utah: Luafalemana 7, Katoa 5, Anae 4; CU: Abu 7, Pfefferle 4, Hayes 4, G. Simpson 4.
Assists — Utah: Choy 39, Openshaw 15; CU: McKibben 26, G. Simpson 24.
Aces — Utah: Anae 2: CU: C. Simpson 1.
Digs — Utah: Shughrou 19, Choy 17, Anae 16; CU: C. Simpson 23, Shadley 14, Smith 12, G. Simpson 11.