The extra season of eligibility granted to all athletes by the NCAA for the 2020-21 pandemic year has led to some unique athletic journeys.
At Colorado, few have embodied that truth quite like Brynna DeLuzio.
The Buffaloes volleyball team will make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018 when CU takes on Rice on Thursday afternoon at Baylor University. The winner will play in a second-round game on Friday against either Baylor or Stephen F. Austin.
DeLuzio is a big reason why the Buffs are seeking their first tournament victory since she was a true freshman in 2017. She might be CU’s best setter. She might be the team’s best libero. Yet she starts at neither position, and has come off the bench as a regular dual-threat weapon for a Buffs team that matched its best conference record (12-8) since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
“There’s not a lot of players that can do what she does,” CU head coach Jesse Mahoney said. “If I can have her out there playing all six rotations and have her go back-and-forth, I would. I think the way we set up our team this year was best for our success. But it didn’t maximize her abilities. Not everyone is playing the role they absolutely want. We have two setters most of the time. We have a libero that sometimes gets DS’ed (defensive specialist) out. We have Jill (Schneggenburger) playing on the right side when she’s a natural left.
“Everyone is sacrificing for the greater good. I think Brynna has probably done that the most. Could she have been our starting setter? Yes. Could she have been our starting libero? Yes. Would we have been as successful this year? I don’t know the answer to that. But we were really successful in the role that she’s in.”
DeLuzio appeared destined for a record-setting career when she recorded 1,411 assists in 2017, the eighth-best mark in program history. She earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors while also landing a spot on the league’s All-Freshman team as CU reached the Sweet 16 for the third time in program history.
DeLuzio battled injuries during the 2018 season and redshirted in 2019. By the time she returned, Jenna Ewert had established herself at setter and the Buffs were struggling to reload during the pandemic years. DeLuzio began to flourish as a libero, posting 500 digs last year. Only one player has recorded more in CU history (Cierra Simpson with 519 in 2014 and 505 in 2015).
This year, DeLuzio has thrived in a super-sub role at both spots, recording five double-doubles in assists-digs.
“Anytime going into the tournament is a really nice feeling,” DeLuzio said. “I think coming back, there was no doubt in my mind we wouldn’t be in this position. We all knew, even last year, that we had the talent for this next season to pull of what we’ve done this season. I think it’s been really rewarding to see us actually do it.”
Perhaps the biggest difference between this year’s tournament-bound Buffs and the past few seasons has been the team’s work on the road. Over the previous three seasons, CU went 8-26 in road games with a 3-26 record in Pac-12 road games. This year, CU went 5-5 in Pac-12 road games, highlighted by a critical win at nationally-ranked Washington on Nov. 18 after entering with an 0-10 mark all-time at UW.
“I do think that this team, they’ve been confident in themselves and they’ve expected to do well,” Mahoney said. “I think there were years past where we really haven’t expected the success that they maybe could have had. This year, they expected it. Like, ‘We’re going to go to UCLA and expect to win.’ To me, that’s been the biggest change.”
NCAA volleyball tournament first round: CU Buffs vs. (5) Rice Owls
GAME TIME: Thursday, 3:30 p.m. MT, Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPN+.
RECORDS: Colorado 20-10, 12-8 Pac-12 Conference; Rice 26-3, 13-1 Conference USA.
COACHES: Colorado — Jesse Mahoney, 7th season (112-93, 200-194 overall); Rice — Genny Volpe, 19th season (375-201 at Rice and overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — OH Maya Tabron, Jr. (3.21 kills per set, 2.16 digs per set); OH Lexi Hadrych, Gr. (3.19 kills per set); S Taylor Simpson, So. (7.88 assists per set); MB Alexia Kuehl, R-Jr. (1.10 blocks per set); MB Meegan Hart, Gr. (1.23 blocks per set, 2.47 kills per set); DS/L Katie Lougeay, Sr. (3.33 digs per set). Rice — MB Anota Adekunle, Gr. (3.15 kills per set, 0.87 blocks per set); S Carly Graham, Gr. (10.47 assists per set);L/DS Nia McCardell, Jr. (4.72 digs per set).
NOTES: Rice is playing in its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament…CU and the Owls shared two common opponents this season in Oregon and Florida International. The Buffs lost both its games against Oregon in league play, and Rice suffered a five-set road loss against the Ducks on Sept. 3. CU swept Florida International on Sept. 9 at the Arkansas Invitational, while Rice swept FIU twice, once during the regular season and again in the first game of the Conference USA tournament…Rice finished second in Conference USA during the regular season but won the league tournament…CU’s Meegan Hart and Sterling Parker were named to the Academic All-District team by College Sports Communicators…Earlier this week, CU coach Jesse Mahoney said it was doubtful Parker would be available after she missed the past four games due to an ankle injury.