Growing up in Boulder, Jesse Mahoney has seen how good the Colorado volleyball team can become.
He was a student at CU in 1993 when coach Brad Saindon led the Buffaloes to the Big Eight title and took them to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
Introduced as the fifth head coach in CU history on Friday, Mahoney said he aims to get the Buffs back to a championship level.
“There’s a vision for it being an elite program in the Pac-12 and an elite program nationally,” he said. “I truly believe we have all the pieces in place to make that happen.”
Hired on Thursday after four seasons at the University of Denver, where he went 88-41, Mahoney returns to his alma mater with hopes of taking the Buffaloes to the next level.
Under the direction of Liz Kritza, who was fired earlier this month after seven seasons, CU went 57-41 the past three years and has started to become a force in the Pac-12, which is widely recognized as the best conference in the country.
Mahoney believes there’s potential for even better results, and his new players are already starting to buy into his vision.
“I have a really good first impression,” said hitter Joslyn Hayes, who will be a junior in 2016. “I really liked his philosophy on coaching, how he felt things should be run, what he believed was important in a program. Everything he’s had to say I thought was really good and sounded pretty legit.”
Mahoney is getting started just as his new players leave town for the holidays. Hayes was the only player in attendance at Friday’s press conference because she’s the only one in town. While he won’t get on the court with the Buffs until mid-January, Mahoney said one of his first priorities is to connect with his players — and future recruits — as much as possible.
So far, he said, “Everyone I’ve spoken to is very excited and very encouraging and really looking forward to the future.”
Also on Mahoney’s initial to-do list is building a coaching staff.
Associate head coach J.T. Wenger was a candidate for the head coaching job, but isn’t likely to return. Neither is Kritza’s other assistant, Ryal Jagd, who was placed on administrative leave in October.
Mahoney’s two assistants at DU won’t be joining him in Boulder. Top assistant Tom Hogan was immediately promoted to head coach on Thursday, and Hogan promoted Katelin Batten to first assistant.
“At this point I believe it will be a new staff,” Mahoney said. “There’s a possibility that one of my staff members from DU will join me, but at this point I can’t say for sure. By the time the players get back here, I hope to have all those answers.”
As Mahoney looks to build a staff and build relationships with players, he will also aim to build CU’s profile within the state.
That starts in recruiting.
“I think every elite volleyball player in the state of Colorado should come visit this campus and I think we’re going to make that happen,” he said. “There’s a lot of (high school) talent here. That’s obviously a priority for us. We feel like we’re the flagship university in the state and the best players in the state should want to come here.”
Playing rival Colorado State is also a priority. Kritza stopped scheduling the Rams, who have won 12 of the last 13 meetings, including CSU’s win in the second round of the 2014 NCAA tournament. The two teams haven’t faced each other during the regular season since 2010, but there is already a match on the docket for 2016.
“I have no problem playing CSU and playing (coach Tom Hilbert) up there,” said Mahoney, who was an assistant under Hilbert at CSU from 2005-11. “I think it would be a lot of fun. I think it would be important for this program.
“I don’t think there’s anyone we need to worry about playing, certainly in this state. They’ve done a great job and have had a lot of success, and there’s no reason not to play them.”
Knowing the potential of this program, Mahoney isn’t shy about proclaiming where he wants the Buffaloes to go. And he’s eager to get rolling.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said. “We have to get it going right away.”
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.