China trip gives CU volleyball a jump-start on 2019 season

Eight newcomers join new-look Buffs

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Head coach Jesse Mahoney and the Buffs went 1-2 in matches in China.

Having been to Europe numerous times, Colorado volleyball coach Jesse Mahoney joked that while there always is a language barrier, if he somehow became lost in the streets of Berlin or Paris, chances are he’d be able to find his way back to the hotel.

Getting lost in Beijing might have presented a much different challenge, but fortunately it never came to that for Mahoney or any of the Colorado Buffaloes during the team’s recent trip to China. The CU volleyball team returned to Colorado late last week from a tour that included three exhibition matches and plenty of sightseeing.

“The whole experience with volleyball was just kind of one part of it for our team,” Mahoney said. “The experience of going to China and experiencing a new culture, and how different it was but the same in a lot of ways was really, really cool.

“The volleyball piece for us was really good. We had eight new players on the trip. We got about six practices before we left, so we’re maybe a week ahead of where we’d be in August, which is really nice. And it also was good from a team-bonding standpoint. That was a huge bonus for us.”

The Buffs went 1-2 in their three matches, splitting a pair against Minzu University and also dropping a four-set decision against University United, a team of all-stars from several Beijing universities. The contests utilized international rules, limiting Mahoney’s ability to substitute  freely, but the coach heading into his fourth season at CU kept rotating lineups to give the newcomers ample playing time.

All seven of the Buffs’ incoming freshmen joined the trip to China, as did transfer Leah Clayton. Clayton will be ineligible this fall, as her transfer to CU from East Tennessee State was the second of her collegiate career, but she received a waiver to compete in China with an eye on returning to the floor for her senior season in 2020.

“I wanted to make sure everyone got to play,” Mahoney said. “We probably played what I would consider a starting group in two sets of the 13 or 12 that we played. And I used the starting group term pretty loosely because we’re super early, but because of that you have kids that a couple weeks ago were playing high school level, and the next week their playing China’s World University Games team. Which is really good.

“I always tell the players you can’t simulate the stress of a match like that until you’re in it. Getting that stress, and getting that (uncomfortable) feeling is always a good thing because the next time we encounter it, we’ll be a little bit better at it.”

The Buffs are coming off an 18-14 season that ended with a five-set loss against South Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — the Buffs’ second straight tourney bid. The Buffs will look to make it three in a row when they begin practice on Aug. 10, but Mahoney will be tasked with replacing a pair of All-Pac-12 performers in Naghede Abu and Alexa Smith.

The volleyball team’s trip continues a busy 2019 of overseas travel for the Buffs. The women’s soccer team recently returned from a three-game trip to France, and on Nov. 9 the men’s basketball team takes on Arizona State in the Pac-12’s annual season-opening game in China.