While the COVID-19 pandemic marred many aspects of the college sports world, with cancellations and delayed seasons alike, the University of Colorado’s volleyball team believes the quick turnaround from a schedule that began in January and ended in early April will work to its benefit for the upcoming fall slate.
“I just think it was different,” redshirt senior libero/setter Brynna DeLuzio said. “It was nice that we were still getting reps in that season in the spring but it looks a little different than our offseason, so we’re not fine-tuning certain technique skills and breaking it down. I think you can ask anyone; it was a little more tiring than usual to come back, but I think it was beneficial for us to be able to still play that season and come in ready to go.”
The Buffaloes played last year’s schedule much like the Colorado Rockies as they struggled to win a game on the road. While head coach Jesse Mahoney admits that performance set off a few “alarm bells” among the coaching staff, he’s confident in the experienced group of ladies he has returning for 2021.
On a roster of 19, the Buffs welcome back 11 upperclassmen to lead them through an incredibly tough schedule in one of the best conferences — if not the best conference — in all of college volleyball.
It helps, of course, that this season will look a lot more normal with less worry over canceled matches.
“Having a normal season this year is going to be, I think, a game-changer, especially for the team we have this season,” junior right side/middle blocker Sterling Parker said. “We have more upperclassmen than underclassmen, so I think with a veteran team and the five really good freshmen that we have, we have a chance to be really, really good. I think going into a normal season is going to be really exciting for everyone.”
The Buffs will have plenty of talent to lean on as they boast a good amount of depth at every position, from three talented setters and four or five strong hitters to eight experienced liberos, as well as skilled defensive specialists and middles.
The competition, however, will be anything but easy, and the Buffs’ RPI will be better off for it.
CU begins its campaign Friday afternoon at the Charlotte Invitational with an exhibition match against South Carolina State (2 p.m. MDT). The Buffs will move on to Xavier next, then UNC Charlotte, both of which should contend for their conference titles by season’s end.
The Buffs will then begin the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge, which will take them to Illinois to battle with Iowa and the Illini before moving on to Texas Tech, San Jose State and Northern Colorado. Last season, UNC finished 33rd in NCAA.com’s RPI rankings. The Buffs will go head to head with Colorado State in two consecutive matches on Sept. 16 and 18, and that will lead them into conference play.
The preseason rankings house six Pac-12 teams as well as one on the outside looking in: Washington (No. 4), Oregon (No. 14), UCLA (No. 17), Washington State (No. 18), Utah (No. 19), Stanford (No. 21) and Arizona (receiving votes). That means the Buffs will have to be on the top of their game every time they step on the court, but that’s nothing new to them.
“That feels like the Pac-12 every year, to be honest,” Mahoney said. “I think we had eight matches in a row against Top 25 competition (last year) but in the Pac-12 on any given year, you’re going to have nine or 10 teams that are ranked in the Top 25 at any point and the teams that aren’t in the Top 25 are really good as well.
“We had some good matches last year. We beat UCLA, we beat Utah. Those are top-16 teams. We were a swing away from beating Washington, they finished in the Final Four. That’s what our league’s like. It’s a fight every night.”