The most impressive aspect of the start put together by the Colorado volleyball team isn't the 9-3 record the Buffaloes take into this weekend's action, or the No. 16 national ranking CU attained last week that was the program's best in 18 years.
Those are commendable feats, no doubt. Yet what made them even more admirable is that the Buffs have competed the entire season somewhat shorthanded.
That should change this weekend, as senior middle blocker Katelyn Cuff is expected to return to the rotation as the Buffs host a pair of ranked opponents in Pac-12 Conference play beginning with No. 23 USC on Friday (8 p.m.) followed by No. 12 UCLA on Sunday (noon).
"It was a little difficult for me because I felt great and was playing well," Cuff said. "It was just a minor setback, but at the end of the day it's going to be OK. It's a long season and everything happens for a reason. Now my body feels more fresh than ever."
Cuff played in CU's season-opening matches at the Portland State Invitational and was the Buffs' co-leader in blocks in two of the three contests. CU played those games without standout junior Gabby Simpson, who still was shaking off a preseason injury, but by the time Simpson returned the following week Cuff was sidelined due to a sprained ankle.
For a player who took the floor for 31 matches in each of the past two seasons, missing the past nine has been a frustrating experience. Yet with standout Naghede Abu and another experienced veteran, Anna Pfefferle, picking up the slack in the middle, Cuff's return will only bolster a Buffs squad hoping to gain traction in the league race.
"We're hoping that Katelyn gets back this week and can play at the level she was playing at before she was injured," CU head coach Jesse Mahoney said. "We're excited if we can get everybody healthy, there's no doubt about it. We're going to need everybody because we have (13) more matches against top-25 competition."
The Buffs, who dropped to No. 20 in this week's national coaches poll, will be working against history in their quest to take advantage of the culmination of four straight home matches to start Pac-12 play.
A win Friday would be the first against a USC program that hasn't lost to CU in 12 meetings. Likewise, UCLA swept CU last year and owns a 10-2 all-time mark against the Buffs.
"I think it's a testament to the coaches and the rest of the girls that we all have to be ready at any time," senior Cierra Simpson said of the Buffs' steady play through the injury situations. "It's a lot of things we talked about in the preseason and really in the spring is really knowing what your role is on this team and accepting it. I think a lot of people have been able to step into those roles, whatever they may be."