Colorado volleyball coach Jesse Mahoney still isn't quite using the lineup he envisioned at the outset of the season. Nevertheless, so far there are few complaints about how Justine Spann and Lauren Dorell have stepped seamlessly into bigger roles for the Buffaloes.
As the No. 23-ranked Buffs continue Pac-12 Conference play Friday night at No. 13 Washington, they do so with Spann and Dorrell filling in the role originally reserved for Frankie Shebby, who was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection at outside hitter during the Buffs' NCAA Sweet 16 season of 2017.
Shebby, however, opted to leave the team just before the start of the season, citing long-term concerns about a back issue. That decision immediately thrust Spann and Dorrell, role players a year ago, into a bigger spotlight as the Buffs started their long quest toward a repeat NCAA Tournament berth.
"Any time you lose a player that's been a big part of your program and you weren't planning for it, you kind of have to do some things on the fly," Mahoney said. "That being said, Justine and Lauren are both in their third year in the program. They've had some spot time. I think both have played very well. Both are battling some nagging injuries but pushing through that.
"We have so many new pieces and moving parts on the team right now, even though they are new pieces they have been in the system and know what's expected and what they need to do. Both players have had great moments this season, but both players also are still learning and definitely getting better."
The duo has more than made up for the 3.5 kills per set Shebby provided last year, with Spann averaging 2.98 per set and Dorrell, in a more limited role, adding 1.1 per set. Spann, a junior, recorded at least 10 kills in each of the first seven games of the season, including a career-best 19 in a home loss against Georgia. Dorrell, a redshirt sophomore and the daughter of former CU assistant football coach Karl Dorrell, recorded a career-high nine blocks in last week's win against No. 25 (then No. 23) Utah.
Their continued improvement will be critical for the Buffs as they dive deeper into the rugged Pac-12, a league in which nine teams currently are ranked in the nation's top 25 with another, Oregon State, unofficially at No. 28 as the third club among the others receiving votes.
"You want to be on one of the best teams in the country in one of the best conferences, and you have to play great teams and great players in order to get to where you want to be," Mahoney said. "We enjoy the challenge, but it can be a meat grinder. We've played two matches so far, and both have gone five (sets). The toll that takes, the 20 matches we're going to play and 16 are going to be against top-25 competition, it's going to take a physical and mental toll."