CU Buffs returning to college volleyball’s Big Dance

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    The Colorado volleyball team celebrates a close win over Utah on Sept. 19 at CU Events Center.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado's Naghede Abu, right, spikes the ball over Utah's Lauge Gauta, left, and Phoebe Grace on Sept. 19 at CU Events Center in Boulder.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado's Alexa Smith, right, hits over Utah's Megan Yett on Sept. 19 at CU Events Center in Boulder.



Give the Colorado volleyball team credit for this: Under coach Jesse Mahoney, the Buffaloes are developing a habit of coming on strong when it matters most.

For the second consecutive year, a big push down the stretch has vaulted the Buffs into the NCAA Tournament. On Sunday night, Mahoney’s club learned it will take on South Carolina in a first-round match Friday at the University of Minnesota.

It is the second consecutive NCAA tourney berth for CU and the program’s fourth over the past six seasons. Last year, the Buffs defeated James Madison and host Baylor in the first two rounds before falling to eventual national champion Nebraska in CU’s first Sweet 16 appearance in 20 years.

CU was one of eight Pac-12 Conference programs to reach the 64-team tournament field, the most from any conference in the nation. Stanford led that Pac-12 contingent as the tournament’s top overall seed.

It is the Buffs’ 19th NCAA Tournament appearance in team history.

The Buffs went 4-6 during the first half of Pac-12 play but rallied for a 6-4 mark over the second half of the league slate, a run that included a 4-2 mark in road games. CU’s RPI ranking slowly inched forward over the past few weeks, particularly after a five-set road win at then-No. 16 Oregon on Nov. 16.

Last year, the Buffs backed a 5-5 mark in the first half of league play with a 7-3 run down the stretch.

The Buffs have played South Carolina just once in a long-ago moment in program history, with the Buffs posting a three-set win at home on Sept. 15, 1989.

Colorado State, which the Buffs defeated in four sets at home on Sept. 15, earned a first-round date against Tennessee. Mahoney’s former club, the University of Denver, earned its fifth consecutive NCAA tourney berth and will play Utah on Friday at Brigham Young.

Pat Rooney: or