Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Olivia Butrymovich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Colorado volleyball team has surprised not only the Buffalo community, but most of the NCAA volleyball world this season. The Buffs have not only defeated two top 10 teams this season, but they have ruffled more than a few feathers throughout the rest of the division.
It is not a question as to whether the Buffs will make the NCAA tournament this year, but it is questionable whether they can hold it together long enough to make it past the second round of regional play. Last year, the Buffs made it to the second round of the tournament only to lose to the Colorado State Rams. All feuds aside, the Rams were the No. 15 seed and went on to lose in the next round to No. 2 Texas. Texas would go on to lose to Brigham Young University in the Final Four.
This year is “the year” for the Buffs to make a splash in the volleyball world. Every week I see them play, the more their confidence grows and the more comfortable they are playing against these higher-level opponents.
As we look into the season so far, CU currently holds a 12-8 overall record and a 4-4 record in Pac-12 play. The Pac-12 has proved to be the best conference in the country with the most teams making appearances in the national top 25. Of CU’s eight loses, five went to teams that are currently top 25-ranked. Both Penn State and USC were ranked as the No. 1 team in the country at the time the Buffs played these teams.
This season, the Buffs have pulled upsets over No. 18 Florida State — who were ranked No. 9 at the time the Buffs played them — and recently upset No. 6 Stanford in four sets. Along with these two major victories, CU took No.1 USC to five sets only to lose in the fifth.
Colorado’s ability to match the level of play with these higher-level teams is impressive considering their standings. What the record doesn’t show is the number of times Colorado has lost in more than three sets. I mean, they nearly upset one of the only two undefeated teams left in the top 25, USC. However, after nearly defeating the Trojans, the Buffs went on to lose to UCLA in three sets two days later.
The problem with CU’s volleyball team is not their level of play. What will test these women, come December, is whether or not they have the endurance to play multiple high-level teams within days at a time.
As the season has progressed, there seems to be a balance between the Buffs offense and defense, and no singular player is being relied on more heavily than another. Looking to the front, senior outside hitter Alexis Austin and sophomore setter Gabby Simpson help give a balance to the front row. Austin has had 297 kills so far this season, nearly surpassing the 303 kills that she had at the end of the season last year. Simpson, who totaled only 184 kills last season, has recorded 265 already this season.
At the beginning of the season, senior setter Nicole Edelman looked to Austin as her go-to girl to secure the kill, but she is no longer limited to just one option. With freshman middle blocker Abu Naghede’s confidence growing at the net, the Buffs have equalized the playing field, and the back court has been pulling weight as well. The defensive duo of junior libero Cierra Simpson and freshman defensive specialist Abbie D’Agosta has been successful in controlling the ball and initiating plays for the Buffs.
There have been many positives for the Buffs this season, and they’ve come away from the games they lost with ideas of what they need to fix. Colorado’s difficult preseason schedule and Pac-12 play have prepared them for the toughest of matches that they could possibly face entering the tournament. Colorado has made its case against some top programs and can successfully navigate its way deep into the belly of the postseason beast, and if the Buffs are forced to face Colorado State again, the Rams will not stand a chance against this well-oiled Colorado machine.