Naturally, coach Jesse Mahoney has confidence in each and every one of the volleyball players he brings into his program at the University of Colorado.
However, with so many newcomers dotting this year’s roster, even Mahoney was unsure what to expect, particularly early in the season, from his new-look Buffaloes. In that spirit, while prepping his team to hit the floor last weekend against then-No. 5 Illinois, Mahoney cautioned his Buffs to brace for the long haul, certain the showdown would stretch five sets.
After the upstart Buffs dispatched one of the top clubs in the nation with a three-set sweep it was Justine Spann, one of just three seniors on an otherwise young roster, who told her coach he shouldn’t worry so much. Dispatching every opponent in three sets will always be the plan.
CU’s early surge will be put to the test this week as the Buffs — winners of 15 of 16 sets so far with a 5-0 mark that vaulted the club to No. 19 in this week’s AVCA top 25 poll — take on their state rivals from Colorado State in a home-and-home set that begins Thursday in Fort Collins (7 p.m.) and concludes Friday at the CU Events Center (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“Justine was joking around afterward to have more faith because we’re going to beat everyone in three. Which I know isn’t going to happen,” Mahoney said. “I think whenever you have a new team, or a young team, you might have some results that kind of are all over the place. There’s obviously the possibility of that with us. I think we’re talented enough to have wins like (Illinois). And I think we’re young enough to possibly have some slip-ups if we don’t continue to focus on what we need to do to continue to get better.”
CU and CSU have added a twist to the annual rivalry battle, announcing earlier this week the launch of the Golden Spike Trophy, a traveling trophy inspired, according to a release from CU, “by the final railroad spike from the Comanche Crossing in Strasburg where the site of the Kansas Pacific Railroad laid its final tracks to form the first continuous chain of rails from the Atlantic to Pacific Coast more than 149 years ago.”
When CU and CSU meet twice in a season, as the rivals will again next year, the second matchup will determine the winner of the trophy. This will be the first time since 1995 the teams have met twice in the regular season, though they met twice in both 2000 and 2001 with the second game occurring in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a really cool idea that was brought to us by our supporter group, our booster club, as a way to kind of create some interest in the rivalry,” said Mahoney, a former assistant at CSU. “We thought it was a really cool idea, calling it the Golden Spike. The winner gets to keep it. Colorado State was excited and on-board about it. It’s already a rivalry. I think it will add to it that much more. The trophy looks awesome. We’re excited to hold on to it for a year.”
So far, Mahoney’s youngsters have adjusted seamlessly to the collegiate game alongside CU’s returning starting trio of Spann, Rachel Whipple, and setter Jenna Ewert. Jill Schneggenburger, this week’s Pac-12 Conference Freshman of the Week, has compiled 49 kills and 33 digs, while classmate Sterling Parker has posted 42 kills in just 11 sets.
Iowa State transfer Meegan Hart (22 blocks), Parker (17), and third-year sophomore Danielle Price (16) have taken over a defense that in recent seasons featured two of the top three all-time CU leaders in total blocks in Naghede Abu and Anna Pfefferle.
“It was a really big confidence-boost,” Schneggenburger said about the win against Illinois. “We know we still have a lot of work to do. We’re not going to let this be like we’re okay now and we can relax. I know I’m not OK with just being 19th. I know I want to be top 10 or No. 1 if we can.”
No. 19 CU Buffs volleyball at Colorado State
GAME TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m., Moby Arena, Fort Collins.
RECORDS: CSU 5-1; Colorado 5-0.
NOTES: The teams meet again Friday at CU (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) to complete the first regular season home-and-home series between the rivals in 24 years…CSU coach Tom Hilbert is in his 23rd season at the helm. The Rams have gone 55-1 at home against the state’s other Division I programs under Hilbert, with the lone loss coming against the Buffs in 2017…CU coach Jesse Mahoney was an assistant at CSU from 2005 through 2011…CSU leads the series 23-14, but the Buffs have won the past three matchups. CU hadn’t previously won consecutive matches against the Rams since the early 1990s…CSU is unranked but led the “others receiving votes” category in this week’s AVCA top 25 poll.