Coming off their biggest win of the season so far, the Colorado volleyball team was waylaid by an unexpected rash of adversity heading into the Buffaloes’ second consecutive top-25 showdown on Friday night.
Shorthanded and suddenly trying to adjust to life without their top offensive threat, the 24th-ranked Buffs suffered a 3-1 loss (23-25, 25-16, 25-23, 25-22) in a Pac-12 Conference battle against No. 11 Oregon at the CU Events Center.
The Buffs played without senior and leading attacker Leah Clayton, who was suspended indefinitely this week for a violation of team rules. CU also was missing senior Zoe Neverdowski, a key reserve who had appeared in every game this season but will miss four-to-six weeks due to an injury.
“I thought we fought. I thought we fought throughout the match,” CU head coach Jesse Mahoney said. “We gave ourselves opportunities to score in transition. We’ve got to find ways to get points out of the left side (Clayton’s side) out of system. Everyone that we played on the left struggled a little bit. It doesn’t mean they weren’t working hard. We’ve just got to get a little bit better.
“But I was happy with our effort. That’s what the Pac-12 is going to be. It’s going to be great matches every night and every afternoon on Sundays.”
Mahoney declined to reveal the details behind Clayton’s situation, but she is not expected to return anytime soon. As of Friday night, Clayton was no longer listed on the official roster on the team website.
Clayton led the Buffs and ranked second in Pac-12 with 4.33 kills per set. She recorded 15 kills last week during a home sweep of then-No. 15 Utah and owns the Buffs’ top five single-game kill totals this season. Clayton was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week after the first week of the season and also earned all-tournament honors at the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge following CU wins against Iowa and Illinois.
It has been an eventful collegiate career for Clayton, who spent her freshman season at Liberty before transferring to East Tennessee State, where she won the Big South Conference player of the year in 2018. Per NCAA transfer rules, Clayton sat out the 2019 season after moving to Boulder, and during the COVID-delayed 2020 season played earlier this year she earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
Clayton opted to return this fall for the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA for the pandemic year of 2020-21, telling BuffZone during the preseason, “It would have been a bit of a bummer if I would have ended on last year’s season, just with the COVID policies and everything else that happened. I’d much rather have this year be my last year for sure.”
That last year might already be over for Clayton. Asked if there would be any chance for Clayton to return this season, Mahoney replied, “The party line is she is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. We’re moving forward as if this is our team.”
Clayton’s absence likely will mean more playing time at outside hitter for highly touted freshman Jahara Campbell, who played as many sets on Friday night (three) as she had previously so far this season. Campbell, though, experienced her own injury scare on Friday, heading to the bench late in the third set after suffering what appeared to be a left leg injury. She did not return, but afterward Mahoney said Campbell was dealing with leg cramps and should be available when the Buffs host Oregon State on Sunday at noon.
Despite all the sudden adversity, the Buffs put up a battle against what Mahoney called the best passing team in the Pac-12. CU scored eight of the final nine points to rally for a win in the first set and took the Ducks down to the wire in the final two sets.
“I think besides some of the things that happened earlier in the week, we had a great week of practice,” senior libero Brynna DeLuzio said. “Maybe some nerves kind of came into effect in this game. But I think what we saw in practice and what we saw in short spurts in this game, we have a lot of potential.”
No. 11 Oregon 3, No. 24 Colorado 1
Oregon (12-1, 3-0) 23 25 25 25
Colorado (10-2, 1-2) 25 16 23 22
Kills — Oregon: Nuneviller 13, Borup 12, Hansen 10; Colorado: Tabron 12, Schneggenburger 11, Campbell 7.
Assists — Oregon: Robinson 27, Ferreira 25; Colorado: Ewert 38.
Aces — Oregon: Ferriera 2, Morse 2; Colorado: Perry 1, Riddle 1, Schneggenburger 1.
Blocks — Oregon: Hansen 8, Mutiri 6; Colorado: Kuehl 4, Hart 3.
Digs — Oregon: Murphy 27, Robinson 15, Nuneviller 13, Borup 13; Colorado: DeLuzio 23, Tabron 15, Schneggenburger 13.