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Katie Lougeay’s rebound a big part of Colorado volleyball’s strong start

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BOULDER,CO-September 16:CU's Katie Lougeay celebrates a ...
CU’s Katie Lougeay celebrates a point during the Buffs’ victory last week against Colorado State. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Katie Lougeay wasn’t going to be denied in her quest to make a bigger impact with the Colorado volleyball team as a senior. And she began taking aim at that goal pretty much the moment a disappointing 2021 season finally ended.

Last year was a forgettable campaign for the Buffaloes collectively, as well as for Lougeay personally. The 2021 season began with a 9-0 run for the Buffs through nonconference play, but a series of personnel issues altered the course of a season that CU ultimately completed with losses in six of the final seven games and a final record of 15-14.

Lougeay generally didn’t participate in either the highs or the lows last season as she mostly remained on the bench. This year, however, the Buffs have posted an 8-2 record, and Lougeay’s play as CU’s starting libero has been one of several reasons the Buffs are confident about turning in a comeback season as they get set to open Pac-12 Conference play on Thursday at Utah.

“Being a senior, being a veteran on this team now, knowing all our systems, it’s just really fun to play with all my friends and all my teammates,” Lougeay said. “I think what happened last season, I never wanted it to happen again. I worked my butt off in the spring to be able to have the role that I play now.

“I knew I could do it, and I just needed to keep telling myself I could do it. So I self-motivated myself to get the role I have now.”

The senior from Encinitas, Calif., has weathered an up-and-down road at CU. As a freshman in 2019, Lougeay missed the first half of the season due to a leg injury, but returned to play off the bench in the final 14 matches. During the shortened and delayed 2020 pandemic season, Lougeay was a regular part of the rotation and made several starts at libero.

Last year, Lougeay barely got off the bench, playing just seven sets the entire season. Yet almost as soon as the postseason began, CU head coach Jesse Mahoney noted a newfound focus and intensity out of Lougeay.

“I’m really happy for Katie. She’s really playing the best volleyball I’ve ever seen her play,” Mahoney said. “She won the libero jersey and has held on to it, and Brynna DeLuzio is pretty good. She had a junior slump, I guess, and a rough junior year. To her credit, she put in a ton of work in the spring. She didn’t hang her head. She fought to make herself better and I’m really proud of her. She’s been our best passer, she’s one of our best servers. She’s been a big part of our success.”

DeLuzio started every match last season at libero and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. A former setter as well, DeLuzio spent much of the offseason and preseason competing with sophomore Taylor Simpson for the setter role, leaving Lougeay with an opportunity to entrench herself at the libero spot. So far, Simpson has worked as the primary setter, leaving DeLuzio to fill a sort of super-sub role at two positions.

“Pac-12 is always tough. But I think we’re on an incline right now. We’re playing good and going into Pac-12 strong and gaining confidence,” Lougeay said. “We need to take each game at a time and each point at a time and just focus on the opponent ahead of us each night.”

CU Buffs volleyball at Utah Utes

GAME TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. MT, Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Mountain.

RECORDS: Colorado 8-2; Utah 7-4.

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — OH Maya Tabron, Jr. (3.39 kills per set); S Taylor Simpson, So. (9.64 assists per set); MB Alexia Kuehl, R-Jr. (1.74 blocks per set); MB Meegan Hart, Gr. (1.25 blocks per set, 2.89 kills per set); DS/L Katie Lougeay, Sr. (3.50 digs per set). Utah — OH Madelyn Robinson, Gr. (4.21 kills per set); S/DS Emily Smith, Sr. (9.21 assists per set); MB Allie Olsen, Jr. (0.86 blocks per set); DS/L Vanessa Ramirez, Jr. (4.16 digs per set).

NOTES: The teams split the season series last year, but CU has lost its past five games at Utah…The Utes lead the all-time series 16-11…Utah earned 12 points in this week’s AVCA top 25 poll, unofficially landing at No. 30…This is the Pac-12 opener for both teams. CU has gone just 19-41 in league play over the past three seasons…Former CU setter Jenna Ewert, who is spending her extra season with top-ranked Texas, is the backup setter for the unbeaten Longhorns and began the week averaging 2.06 assists per set. Ewert had played in 16 of 27 matches going into Texas’ contest at Kansas on Wednesday…CU’s Maya Tabron has averaged 3.58 kills per set over the past three contests…Through nonconference play, CU ranks second in the Pac-12 in blocks per set (2.94) and third in digs per set (14.83)…Buffs senior Meegan Hart leads the Pac-12 with a .477 hitting percentage…The Buffs host their first Pac-12 home game on Sunday at noon against Arizona State.

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