Rachael Fara was on her way to Boulder last summer, with U-Haul trailer in tow, when she got a text that one of her new Colorado volleyball teammates had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Buffaloes spent two weeks in quarantine, while Fara went through one-on-one workouts with trainers.
“I was with more of the men’s basketball players, because they were always in the training room, too, than my own team for a little bit,” Fara said. “So it took a hot minute to get to know everyone.”
Change is nothing new to Fara, though, and in time she got settled in and felt welcomed by her new team. Now, the graduate transfer is playing a key role with the Buffs (4-2), who welcome No. 10 Washington to Boulder for a pair of matches, Friday and Sunday.
“I love all the girls,” said Fara, who leads the Pac-12 in hitting percentage, at .463. “I think they’re all great individuals and teammates, and the coaching staff is awesome; the support staff is awesome.”
A 6-foot-3 middle blocker from Naperville, Ill., Fara is a sixth-year senior at her third school. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Northwestern, but basically only played two seasons there. She missed all but one match in 2017 with an injury and then didn’t play in 2018 as she finished her degree.
In 2019, she transferred to Dayton to work on her masters and played in 22 matches, but didn’t feel comfortable there.
“It just wasn’t quite working out, for various reasons, at both of the schools,” she said. “Both times I tried to sort of resolve some of the issues that I was having, and just sort of ended up calling it and transferring out.”
Last spring, CU head coach Jesse Mahoney was looking for a middle blocker who was good at slide attacks – jumping off one foot from the right side – and found Fara.
“We had players that were good at it, but not a player that was great,” Mahoney said. “We felt like Rachael had that ability, which is absolutely what she’s shown since she’s been here.
“She was still a risk because she was coming off of a shoulder surgery. It was a calculated risk that if it worked out would be a bonus for us and if it didn’t, we still had some good players in the program. It’s turned out that it’s worked out.”
Maybe even better than Mahoney expected. In fact, he said the delay of the season from the fall until spring has been “a godsend” for Fara, because she wasn’t fully healthy until October or November.
During practices this winter, Fara displayed power when hitting the ball, but surprised Mahoney in the Jan. 22 season opener against Oregon State.
“The first swing she took I was like, ‘Oh, she’s got another gear that she’s been saving a little bit,’” Mahoney said. “I’m not surprised she’s doing as well as she is. We have to feed her a little bit more probably than we are, to be honest.
“She’s been everything as advertised and we’re super excited she chose to come here for her last opportunity.”
Fara is excited, too, as she’s excelling on the court and the classroom, where she’s wrapping up a master’s degree in chemical engineering.
At the time of her move, all college sports were on hold because of COVID-19, so she knew volleyball wasn’t guaranteed, but said, “It was sort of an all or nothing move and it’s paid off beyond what I could ever imagined so far, so I’m happy with it.”
Fara is enjoying a good season statistically, but is more interested in helping the Buffs bounce back from getting swept at Washington State last weekend by performing well against Washington this weekend.
“I arrived here wanting to make an impact,” she said. “I’m a highly driven person, as most collegiate athletes are and everyone on our team is. … I think (leading the Pac-12 in hitting) is awesome. That’s great. I still want to take a win over just being a stats leader, so we’ll keep working as a team to make that happen..”
With only 14 matches left in the shortened regular season, Fara’s time with the Buffs could be short – but maybe not. Because the NCAA has granted all athletes and extra year of eligibility, she could return next fall and start working on her doctorate degree. Already the first sixth-year player Mahoney has ever coached, Fara could become one of the first seventh-year athletes in CU history.
That decision will be made later, though. For now, she’s grateful for the experiences she’s had the past several years.
“I count it as a blessing,” she said of her college journey. “It’s been really awesome. I’ve learned a lot over the past couple years. I’ve had some easier and not so easy lessons. But I like to look at it in a positive way.”
CU Buffs volleyball vs. No. 10 Washington Huskies
GAME TIME: Friday, 1:30 p.m. and Sunday, 3 p.m., at CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV – Pac-12 Networks.
RECORDS: Colorado 4-2 (4-2 Pac-12); Washington 6-2 (6-2 Pac-12)
COACHES: Colorado – Jesse Mahoney, 5th season (73-59; 161-100 career); Washington – Keegan Cook, 6th season (138-38).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado – OH Elissa Alcantara, 6-2, So. (2.90 kills per set); OH Leah Clayton, 5-11, Sr. (3.0 kills per set, 2.0 digs per set); S/LIB Brynna DeLuzio, 5-9, Jr. (3.59 digs per set); S Jenna Ewert, 5-10, Jr. (9.05 assists per set, 2.45 digs per set, 1.09 blocks per set); MB Rachael Fara, 6-3, Sr. (2.14 kills per set, 0.95 blocks per set); RS/MB Sterling Parker, 6-2, So. (2.18 kills per set); OH Jill Schneggenburger, 6-0, So. (1.82 kills per set, 2.23 digs per set). Washington – OH Shannon Crenshaw, 6-2, Jr. (3.07 digs per set); OH Samantha Drechsel, 6-4, Sr. (3.53 kills per set, 2.4 digs per set); OH Madi Endsley, 6-2, Fr. (2.37 kills per set); OH Claire Hoffman, 6-2, Jr. (3.27 kills per set, 2.07 digs per set); S Ella May Powell, 6-0, Jr. (10.1 assists per set, 2.17 digs per set); MB Lauren Sanders, 6-4, Sr. (1.67 kills per set, 1.27 blocks per set).
NOTES: CU is looking to bounce-back from getting swept in two matches at Washington State last weekend. It was the Buffs’ first road trip since the fall of 2019. “We just have to take the last weekend as a learning experience and figure out how we can get better,” Mahoney said. “I think we’ve done that this week in practice and I think it will be a good set of matches this weekend.” … CU is 5-15 all-time against Washington, including 5-5 in Boulder. The Huskies won both matches against the Buffs in 2019. … Washington won at UCLA, 3-0, on Sunday, after falling to the Bruins, 3-2, on Feb. 12. The Huskies have won six of their seven matches. … Cook has led Washington to two Pac-12 titles and three NCAA Elite Eight appearances in his first five seasons as Huskies’ head coach. He has gone 79-29 in Pac-12 matches.