Colorado spring volleyball
Saturday, April 8: Home vs. Colorado State, 11 a.m. (upper practice gym); vs. Northern Colorado, 1:30 p.m. (Coors Events Center main floor).
Saturday, April 15: at Colorado State, 11 a.m.
Friday, April 21: at Northern Colorado, 6 p.m.
Saturday, April 22: Home vs. Wyoming, Noon.
NOTE: All home dates open to the public.
A year ago Jesse Mahoney was ready for the challenge.
Experience, however, rarely fails to clarify a demanding new challenge like the one Mahoney faced last fall during his first season leading the Colorado volleyball team through the rugged Pac-12 Conference schedule.
As the Buffaloes endure spring workouts this month — CU's first spring game is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at home against Colorado State, followed by a match against Northern Colorado — they do so with a different air of expectation than a year ago. In 2016 Mahoney was the newcomer, fresh off a successful stint at the University of Denver who spent much of the spring simply attaching names to faces while introducing his on-court systems.
This year, a CU team that returns the bulk of its rotation from a squad that went 14-16 overall in Mahoney's inaugural season with a 6-14 mark in the Pac-12 looks to use spring workouts as a better springboard into one of the toughest volleyball conferences in the nation.
"The level of play in this league night in and night out is so high, there's a physical toll and a mental toll that's maybe a little bit different," Mahoney said. "You have to be mentally sharp for so long. You have to get up emotionally every match whether you're playing Stanford or if you're playing Oregon State. If you want to win, you have to be up for every match.
"Managing that as a staff, how we go through three or four months of that, we can do better. I think we can figure out when to go hard and when we need to not and maybe converse energy through the training cycle. If we make any changes it might be on that side of things rather than Xs and Os."
Among the intriguing additions working out with the Buffs this spring are two transfers expected to make immediate contributions in redshirt freshman Emily DeMure and senior Branen Berta.
DeMure, who spent one season at Penn State but did not play, has been working at setter for much of the spring. Gabby Simpson, a senior in the fall who was an honorable mention all-conference selection in 2015 as an outside hitter, was the team's primary setter last season. Simpson, though, has spent much of the postseason recovering from an injury, opening the door for DeMure and possibly allowing Simpson to move back to outside hitter full-time in the fall.
Berta, an Aurora native who played three seasons at Iowa State, is expected to compete with Gabby Carta-Samuels, a junior in the fall, and current freshman Rachel Whipple for the Buffs' open defensive specialist/libero role filled last year by the most significant of CU's few graduation losses, Cierra Simpson.
The Buffs also will welcome Oregon transfer Frankie Shebby into the mix in the fall. Unlike football or basketball, transfers typically do not have to sit out a season in volleyball but because Shebby arrived last fall from a league rival, she remains ineligible for competition until the 2017 season. Shebby practiced with the Buffs last season and is doing so again this spring, but she cannot participate in the Buffs' five-match spring slate.
"Now there's not as much of a feeling-out process," Mahoney said. "Each player knows what practice is going to look like and the expectations of what they're doing. The effort level has been very good and I think the learning curves aren't as steep. They're getting to a place where they can coach themselves, which is really the environment you want."