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CU Buffs volleyball set to begin delayed season

Buffaloes to host Oregon State on Friday and Sunday

Colorado head volleyball coach Jesse Mahoney, left, instructs his players during a practice in January 2021 at CU Events Center in Boulder.
Colorado head volleyball coach Jesse Mahoney, left, instructs his players during a practice in January 2021 at CU Events Center in Boulder.

On Sunday afternoon, the Colorado volleyball team hosted Denver in a scrimmage, giving the Buffaloes a chance to shake off cobwebs and work out some kinks.

It was nice to get back on the court, but when the Buffs open the season Friday at 7 p.m. at home against Oregon State, it’s going to take some time to settle in. (The Buffs and Beavers will also play Sunday at 11 a.m. in Boulder).

“We are in no way close to getting all the jitters out, because it’s been like over a year,” junior setter Jenna Ewert said. “So, this Friday is going to be interesting.”

It has, of course, been an interesting year already because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Colorado junior setter Jenna Ewert, right, talks with assistant coach Evan Lobato during a practice in January 2021.

CU hasn’t played an actual match since Nov. 30, 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out part of the Buffs’ 2020 spring season and the entire fall schedule. The Pac-12 chose to move the volleyball season, which normally goes from August to December, to January-April.

Instead of 30 matches – including 10 non-conference contests to tune up for Pac-12 play – the Buffs’ seasons will include just 20 matches, all against Pac-12 foes.

While it’s an unusual year, the Buffs are happy to get started.

“The only time I think we feel like things are normal is when we’re in the gym, so the opportunity to be in the gym more and more has been really good for us mentally and good for our players, as they kind of navigate this strange time in their lives,” CU head coach Jesse Mahoney said. “To kind of get back into a normal rhythm of things and play in the Pac-12 is going to be really awesome.”

CU’s preparation included about six weeks off for the holidays before returning to practice earlier this month. This is normally when the Buffs begin their offseason training and Ewert said there’s a bit of a strange feeling starting the season after going through the fall not knowing if they’d play at all this school year.

“It’s just weird because we didn’t think it was going to happen,” Ewert said. “Now that we’re here I think we’re all super stoked and we’re all doing exactly what we need to, like, ‘OK, everybody use hand sanitizer, keep your mask on, stay away from people and try to keep this going as smoothly as possible.’”

The Pac-12 set a unique schedule this year that includes teams playing two matches against the same team in a weekend. The idea was to have just two teams coming together each weekend, rather than three or four. The only team the Buffs will play at home and away is Utah.

CU will play every team twice, except for two-time defending national champion Stanford. The Buffs were slated to visit Stanford Jan. 29-31, but the games were canceled because of Santa Clara County guidelines.

Regardless of the unusual nature of this season, the Buffs are aiming to improve upon a 13-17 (5-15 Pac-12) mark in 2019, a season that started with great promise but was derailed by injuries. After a 0-10 start to Pac-12 play that year, the Buffs went 5-5 the rest of the way.

Of the 11 Buffs who played at least 50 sets in 2019, eight are back. Also back is setter/libero Brynna Deluzio, a two-year starter who missed the 2019 season for medical reasons.

CU also adds outside hitter Leah Clayton, who transferred to CU in January of 2019 and set out the 2019 season. She was the Southern Conference player of the year in 2018 at East Tennessee State.

“We feel like how we’re playing right now and what we’re doing in the practice gym is going to translate into us being really competitive,” Mahoney said.

As usual, the Pac-12 will be extremely competitive. In the AVCA coaches poll, three Pac-12 teams are in the top 10: Stanford (No. 3), Washington (7) and Utah (10).

In the preseason Pac-12 coaches’ poll, Utah was picked to win, with CU coming at No. 8.

“It’s the teams that are going to navigate the COVID world, and the teams that are going to continue to get better throughout the season that are going to be good at the end,” Mahoney said. “We feel like we’re in place to do that.”

Despite not feeling quite ready for the season, and dealing with unusual challenges, Ewert, who was voted preseason All-Pac-12, said the Buffs won’t change their expectations to succeed.

“We’re all really holding each other to a high standard, and we’re expecting other teams to do the same exact thing,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a really good, competitive season, even though it’s gonna be weird and short.”

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