Colorado volleyball vs. No. 3 Penn State
WHEN: Friday, 3:30 p.m. MDT, Champaign, Ill.
RECORDS: CU 6-0; Penn State 5-0.
BROADCAST: Live stream available through FightingIllini.com.
NOTABLE: The Buffs are 6-0 for the first time since 2008. The program has never posted a 7-0 start...Alexa Smith's 12 kills and Naghede Abu's eight blocks highlighted CU's win against Penn State last year...CU completes the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge Saturday night against host Illinois (1:30 p.m. MDT).
After his program moved to 6-0 for the first time in almost a decade, Colorado volleyball coach Jesse Mahoney lauded the star potential of sophomore outside hitter Frankie Shebby.
He also cautioned that Shebby, after a year on the sideline, isn't quite there yet. Finding that extra gear likely will be critical for Shebby and her teammates Friday night, as the Buffs put their undefeated mark on the line against No. 3 Penn State at the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge in Champaign, Ill.
Although she did not play in CU's most recent match (strictly precautionary) and is expected to hit at a far more efficient rate as the season goes on, Shebby still ranks second on the team with 49 kills.
"All of our left sides can play six rotations really well," Mahoney said. "She has a really live arm. Her attack percentage will come up when she starts making some better decisions. When she can't get a kill, she needs to take care of the ball. But we expect her to get better."
Shebby began her collegiate career at Oregon as a freshman during the 2014 season, making 13 starts and appearing in 31 matches overall. She won the Pac-12 Conference's Freshman of the Week honor in consecutive weeks that September and also landed on the league's All-Freshman team.
Shebby appeared in 23 matches as a sophomore but received a shock in the spring of 2016 when she was dismissed for what the university termed a violation of team rules. In truth the issue was academic, not disciplinary or legal, stemming from a slow adjustment phase Shebby encountered upon arriving at Oregon. She was given a full release to transfer and landed at Colorado where she redshirted last season, in part to simply regroup.
"I'm definitely excited. The first couple of games were a little tough just adjusting and getting back into that rhythm," Shebby said. "In practices you can go as hard as you want, but it's still not like games. The team looks good. We're just working on being consistent.
"(Sitting out) was frustrating, but I got myself into that situation. I think I maybe needed a year to really focus on my goals and what I wanted to accomplish."
Shebby made the most of her CU debut two weeks ago, posting three consecutive double-digit kill totals as the Buffs brought a 3-0 record home from the Oklahoma Invitational. She also has posted three double-digit efforts in digs, including a total of 19 during her two appearances in CU's Omni Invitational last week.
Shebby and kills leader Alexa Smith sat out the finale of the Omni Invitational as Mahoney navigated his team through an opening grind that saw the Buffs play their first six matches over just 10 days. The extra rest could prove useful against the third-ranked Nittany Lions, who knocked off then-No. 1 Stanford last week. A cast of largely the same Penn State players, ranked 13th at the time, was topped by the Buffs in four sets last year in Boulder.
"They're in that top-five mix and they will be there all season I'm assuming," Mahoney said. "They're the same team they were last year. The same starters, just a year older. We caught them at home and early in the season. I think they got better as the year went on. It's going to be a challenge for us, obviously. They're big and physical across the board.
"I think we've played good volleyball. We've beaten the teams we had to beat. But this will be a step up."