In the 18 seasons from 1989 through 2006, the Colorado women's volleyball team failed to reach the NCAA Tournament just twice.
The Buffaloes had made just two return appearances since 2006 before last year, when CU backed a solid fifth-place finish in the ultra-competitive Pac-12 Conference with the program's first run to the Sweet 16 since 1997.
It was a memorable season for the Buffs in their third year under head coach Jesse Mahoney. Yet is was a destination the Buffs routinely expect of themselves. As Mahoney put his squad through spring workouts, the return trip to the NCAA tourney in 2017 hasn't necessarily raised the bar within the program. It merely reinforced to the Buffs that they're on the right path.
"Looking back on the season — and we were disappointed when it ended — our kids are proud of what we accomplished," Mahoney said. "But we see ourselves in that elite group of programs and elite group of teams. It was gratifying to see that happen, but that's kind of what we expect of ourselves. So I don't think it has particularly changed what we do day in and day out. I think we were already working towards that kind of level.
"We know we can do it, and our expectation is to get back in there and continue to move forward."
The third set of spring workouts under Mahoney featured a Buffs squad likely to be deeper than either of Mahoney's previous two CU teams.
The Buffs entered the spring missing just two players from the regular rotation in 2017. In both cases, Mahoney is expecting to fill the gaps with players who have been biding their time on the sideline.
Defensively, there is a gap to fill with the graduation of Anna Pfefferle, whose 473 career blocks ranks second in CU history. Danielle Price spent her true freshman season last fall as a redshirt, and at 6-foot-4 the native of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada is expected to be a fixture in a middle of the Buffs' defense for years to come.
The Buffs also lost outside hitter Joslyn Hayes, who improved each season at CU before earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as a senior last fall. Waiting in line are Justine Spann and Lauren Dorrell, who served backup roles last year to Hayes, Alexa Smith, and Frankie Shebby.
Mahoney also will be adding a talented recruiting class to bolster a talented core that includes Smith, Shebby, middle blocker Naghede Abu, and setter Brynna DeLuzio, who landed on a number of freshman All-American teams last fall.
"We have a very deep roster and we'll still have a lot of competition," Mahoney said. "I say we return five starters, but we have kids that are competing every day that have an opportunity to make a push to get on the floor, even outside of those two open spots. We've got a great freshman setter who will be a sophomore and we're bringing in a talented freshman behind her. It's good to see. But we'll see the real competition come the fall."