It wasn’t the season any of the three seniors from the Colorado volleyball team would have preferred. Not after reaching the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons.
And the finale was somewhat of a microcosm of the entire 2019 season for the Buffaloes, with a young and talented CU team falling just a step or two short against one of the many volleyball powers that call the Pac-12 Conference home.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable and emotional day for CU’s three seniors — Justine Spann, Rachel Whipple, and Lillie Klemmer — Saturday at the CU Events Center, despite a three-set sweep by No. 17 Utah that ended the Buffs’ season with a 13-17 mark.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the three of our careers here and the teammates that we’ve had that have pushed us to the limit both on and off the court,” Spann said. “The support that we’ve had from this university has been amazing, and the opportunities that we’ve had…there’s no other people I’d want to finish off my career here with. I’m so proud to call them my teammates.”
Spann and Whipple played key roles in the Buffs’ NCAA Tournament teams of the past two years, and both players will be remembered in the CU record book.
Whipple finished her senior season with 417 digs, and earlier this week she clinched the 15th 400-dig season in program history. The Centennial native is only the fourth CU player to hit that mark twice, and her 963 career digs ranks 17th all-time.
Spann led the Buffs’ offense on Saturday with nine kills, and her final career tally of 832 kills is tied for 23rd all-time.
Klemmer didn’t play as much over the years as her two classmates, yet head coach Jesse Mahoney gave her the starting nod against Utah and Klemmer responded with a team-leading four blocks.
“It’s been a great experience. I wouldn’t change anything,” Klemmer said. “A lot of people might say this wasn’t our best season, but this was my favorite season and I’m just really grateful to be here.”
CU began Pac-12 play with a 10-match losing streak, the third-longest slide in program history, yet the youthful Buffs rallied to go 5-5 over the last half of league play, a run that included wins against ranked squads from UCLA and Cal.
Mahoney, who said farewell to the first senior class at CU he has mentored since they were freshmen, leaned heavily on a number of rookies this season who expect to help lead the Buffs back into NCAA Tournament contention in the near future. That group includes Elissa Alcantara, who turned in a strong second half to the season; Sterling Parker, who ranked second on the team in kills and blocks; and Jill Schneggenburger, who led the Buffs’ defense with eight digs Saturday against the Utes.
Mahoney also will welcome to the mix outside hitter Leah Clayton, an outside hitter who redshirted this season as a transfer, and Brynna DeLuzio, a two-year starter who missed the season after undergoing preseason knee surgery. Mahoney said DeLuzio recently returned to practice in a limited capacity and is expected to be at full strength when spring practices begin.
“Unfortunately our season is over, but I think we have some building blocks and some things to propel us next year,” Mahoney said. “We had nine new players on our roster this year and we had a lot of underclassmen. I always knew there was going to be some ups and downs. And we had some pretty high highs, and unfortunately we had some low lows. It’s tough when you’re a senior to be on a team that’s essentially rebuilding. But I think we’re going to come back next year and every single one of our players is going to be better.”
No. 17 Utah 3, Colorado 0
Utah (22-9, 14-6) 25 25 25
Colorado (13-17, 5-15) 20 18 19
Kills — Utah: Drews 21, Koerber 8; Colorado: Spann 9, Parker 6.
Assists — Utah: Ka’aha’aina-Torres 35; Colorado: Ewert 22.
Aces — Utah: Koerber 1, Doehrmann 1; Colorado: Hart 3.
Blocks — Utah: Koerber 5, Oblad 5; Colorado: Klemmer 4.
Digs — Utah: Ka’aha’aina-Torres 13, Koerber 10; Colorado: Schneggenburger 8, Ewert 6, Spann 6, Whipple 4.