CU volleyball looks to reverse trend against ranked Pac-12 foes

Colorado coach Jesse Mahoney and the Buffs have lost their first two Pac-12 Conference games this season.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado coach Jesse Mahoney and the Buffs have lost their first two Pac-12 Conference games this season.

Oregon State at Colorado volleyball

WHEN: Friday, 8 p.m., Coors Events Center.

BROADCAST: Pac-12 Mountain.

RECORDS: Oregon State 10-4, 0-2 Pac-12 Conference; CU 10-3, 0-2.

NOTES: The Buffs’ road loss against Oregon State last year snapped a seven-game winning streak against the Beavers. CU has won its past five home matches against OSU…CU senior Anna Pfefferle needs four blocks to become just the fifth Buffs player to record 400 blocks in her career…CU hosts No. 12 Oregon on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Ducks play at Utah Friday night.

It is far too early for anyone within the Colorado volleyball program to even think about hitting the panic button. The Buffaloes have played just two Pac-12 Conference matches so far, and in one of them CU went point-for-point with one of the top teams in the nation.

Still, dating back to last season, the Buffs have not fared well against ranked opponents within their league. While struggling against upper-echelon teams isn’t necessarily a back-breaking trait, and one that could afflict any number of teams, in a league in which half the teams are ranked among the nation’s top 25, any march into contention for an NCAA Tournament berth will require the Buffs to reverse their recent trend against the nation’s best.

That challenge could begin this weekend, as the Buffs host Oregon State on Friday before taking on No. 12 Oregon Saturday night at the Coors Events Center.

“I don’t think our kids look at it as a narrative at all,” CU coach Jesse Mahoney said. “We have a good sense what the long haul in this league is. There’s 18 more league matches and all of them are going to be tough. We believe we will be competitive in each and every one of them. If we can continue to get better, we’ll be in a fine place.”

CU opened Pac-12 play last week with a loss at then-No. 16 Utah (now No. 15) and a five-set loss at home against defending national champion Stanford, which arrived in Boulder ranked fourth but moved up to No. 2 this week.

While the Buffs notched a key road win against a ranked Colorado State squad two weeks ago, and also recorded wins against ranked foes from Penn State and Illinois in nonconference play last year, it has been a different story within the Pac-12. Since the beginning of the 2016 season, the Buffs have gone just 3-11 against ranked foes in Pac-12 play. Of those 18 remaining league matches for CU, half of them will be against teams currently ranked in the top 25.

Simply put, if the Buffs expect to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, picking up wins against the league’s best will be essential.

“You always want to take momentum from anything you can, but because last season didn’t come out the way we wanted and we look at it as a big picture, we’re trying to focus on one weekend at a time, one game at a time, one play at a time,” senior Joslyn Hayes said. “We know we can compete like that. It’s just a matter of sustaining that high level of play.”

While Oregon State opened league play with road losses against Oregon and USC (dropping six of seven sets), the Buffs will have a chance to pick up a win against a ranked league opponent when Oregon visits Saturday. Two of those three wins against ranked Pac-12 teams a year ago occurred at home.

“Our schedule is interesting,” Mahoney said. “You look at where some of our teams are situated right now…the first 10 games is tougher than our last 10 games. That’s neither here nor there, other than we have to weather the storm a little bit and then hopefully play like we need to play down the stretch. There’s going to be some interesting swings in the league, because everybody can lose two, three, four on the road and still be very good. We have to win at home for sure and look to compete on the road.”

Pat Rooney: or