Return trip to NCAA Tournament a long time in making for CU volleyball seniors

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado senior Joslyn Hayes was named an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection earlier this week.

CU volleyball vs. James Madison (first round NCAA Tournament)

GAME TIME: Friday, 3:30 p.m. MST, Baylor University.

BROADCAST: Live stream available through

RECORDS: Colorado — 22-9 overall, 12-8 Pac-12 Conference; James Madison 23-5, 11-5 Colonial Athletic Association.

NOTES: The winner will play either Miami (OH) or host Baylor, the tournament’s No. 12 overall seed, in the second round on Saturday…CU has never played James Madison…The Buffs have 22 wins for the first time since 1998…This is CU’s 19th trip to the NCAA Tournament…CU head coach Jesse Mahoney led two University of Denver teams to the tournament and also went seven times as an assistant at Colorado State…CU is 8-8 all-time in the first round…CU coach Jesse Mahoney said three freshmen who have yet to play this season — Jaden Newsome, Danielle Price, and Anyse Smith — will take redshirt years and retain all four years of eligibility.

Like her two senior teammates, Joslyn Hayes has experienced a little bit of everything during her time with the Colorado volleyball team.

Most significant was the coaching change that occurred two years ago when the coach that brought Hayes and fellow seniors Stephanie Shadley and Anna Pfefferle to Boulder, Liz Kritza, was replaced by Jesse Mahoney.

Before that move Hayes had an opportunity to be courtside as a true freshman in 2013 and again in 2014 when the Buffaloes reached the NCAA Tournament. An injury robbed Hayes of much of that 2014 season, and she suffered alongside her classmates through last year’s 6-14 finish in the Pac-12 Conference during Mahoney’s first year at the helm.

This fall, all those ups and downs proved well worth it. Hayes, named an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection earlier this week, Pfefferle and Shadley will forever be able to say they helped restore the Buffs program to national prominence, as CU returns to the NCAA tourney Friday with a first-round match against James Madison at Baylor University.

“It’s super exciting. That’s really all I can say,” Hayes said. “I’m stoked. I’m pumped that our season isn’t over. It’s such a different feeling than the last two years either not knowing (2015) or knowing that we weren’t going (2016), and then transferring that to, ‘Oh we’re going, we’re not done yet.’ It’s exciting my senior season gets to be prolonged.”

Mahoney’s first tournament bid with the Buffs is the culmination of a reset that began within the program following last year’s disappointing finish, which included a late run of nine losses in 10 games. The lineup was tweaked slightly — holdovers like Hayes, Pfefferle, Alexa Smith, and Naghede Abu were joined by new starters Frankie Shebby, Gabby Carta-Samuels, and freshman setter Brynna DeLuzio — yet the biggest difference between last year’s Buffs and the 2017 team has been mental, not physical.

In a league that sent nine teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Buffs generally held their own against some of the top competition in the nation. Moreover, there were numerous examples of CU’s improved mental toughness, such as the Sept. 29 home win against Oregon State in which the Buffs shook off a 25-7 shellacking in the fourth set to prevail in five.

“It’s a natural thing, but it’s tough to compare year to year,” Mahoney said. “For whatever reason, I think this team had a little bit of grit to them, and had a little bit of trust in themselves. You can point to some fourth sets and some other sets where we got blown out and we turn around and we come back and win the match. We kept plugging away this regular season, and that’s a testament to the maturity of the players on this team.”

Hayes didn’t play in the Buffs’ 2013 NCAA Tournament matches as a true freshman, and she was injured when CU suffered a heartbreaking loss at Colorado State in the second round of the 2014 tourney. Pfefferle played in all nine sets of the Buffs’ 2014 appearance and Shadley appeared in the opening with against Northern Colorado, and that constitutes the bulk of the team’s NCAA tourney experience. Smith also played in two tournament games with Purdue during her freshman year in 2015, while Shebby played in a total of four with Oregon in 2014 and 2015.

“As a freshman you think, ‘Oh, I’m going to have three more opportunities at it,’ but really you could have only one other opportunity. You could have no opportunities,” Shadley said. “Take advantage of this one. You never know when it’s going to be your last time playing in the NCAA Tournament.”

Pat Rooney: or