The Colorado volleyball team probably should get accustomed to playing matches in the Pac-12 Conference as tightly-contested as the one the Buffaloes endured in their league opener Wednesday night.

If the results generally are as successful as what the Buffs experienced against Utah at the CU Events Center, they eventually will be looking at a return trip to the NCAA Tournament even if the journey proves taxing on the nervous system of head coach Jesse Mahoney.

The Buffs overcame a 2-1 set disadvantage, as well as a 5-1 deficit in the decisive fifth set, to pull out a five-set victory against the No. 23-ranked Utah Utes. It was the Buffs' sixth consecutive victory, and the win avenged a pair of losses against the Utes last year. It also was the fifth consecutive year the Buffs have opened Pac-12 play against the Utes, with CU ending a three-game losing streak in those league openers.

Colorado’s Alexa Smith hits over Utah’s Megan Yett on Wednesday at CU Events Center.
Colorado's Alexa Smith hits over Utah's Megan Yett on Wednesday at CU Events Center. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

The Utes were just one of seven Pac-12 teams to begin league play ranked among the nation's top 25. That list doesn't include Oregon State, the Buffs, and Arizona, which unofficially are ranked No. 29 through No. 31 in the nation among the other teams receiving votes.

"I don't think we ever felt like we couldn't win that match," Mahoney said. "We never talk in those terms either, like what the score is or we're down. We talk about the next play and we talk about what we can improve on from play to play. And hopefully the cumulative effect of that has us playing better.

"We gave up some loose points in the start of the fifth and had to earn those back. We gave up five easy ones and had to earn five tough ones. That's this team in a nutshell."


Utah gained the early edge with a 25-21 win in the opening set, but the Buffs drew even by reversing that score in the second set.

CU endured its longest stretch of uneven play during the third set, at one point surrendering nine consecutive points before falling into a 2-1 set deficit with a 25-13 defeat.

The Buffs were able to draw even by leading throughout a 25-18 win in set 4, but the Buffs quickly fell behind 5-1 in the decisive finale. CU was able to rally behind seniors Alexa Smith and Naghede Abu, who led a 5-1 Buffs run that tied the frame at 6-6. The set remained tied at 13-13, but two kills from Smith capped the comeback and got the Buffs off to a victorious start in league play.

"Utah is a great team and they showed us we need to keep that even keel on the court," Smith said. "I think mostly it's kind of keeping disciplined on our side and making eye contact with your teammates around you to make sure everyone is focused-in in those moments."

Smith paced the Buffs' attack with 15 kills and also recorded a career-best 23 digs. Redshirt freshman Anyse Smith added 13 kills while third-year sophomore Lauren Dorrell contributed a career-best nine blocks.

"It started off a little rough. We needed to execute our block calls, and we had a few errors," Dorrell said. "I knew going into the second and third sets something needed to change in order for our defense to work. We got it together."


The Buffs continue their homestand on Sunday against No. 14 USC (1 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain)...Smith increased her career kills total to 1,025 to move into 14th-place among CU's all-time leaders.

Pat Rooney: or

Colorado 3, No. 23 Utah 2

At CU Events Center

Utah (8-4) 25 21 25 18 13

Colorado (9-3) 21 25 13 25 15

Kills — Utah: Drews 20, Koerber 9, Grace 8; Colorado: Al. Smith 15, An. Smith 13.

Blocks — Utah: Koerber 8; Colorado: Dorrell 9, Abu 7, Price 4.

Assists — Utah: Choy 28, Ka'aha'aina-Torres 20; Colorado: DeLuzio 21, Ewert 19.

Aces — Utah: Choy 2, Evans 2; Colorado: Ewert 2.

Digs — Utah: Choy 13, Ka'aha'aina-Torres 13, Doehrmann 13; Colorado: Al. Smith 23, Carta-Samuels 9.