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Imagine someone who returns to the state in which they were raised, works for an institution the state is known for and has a five-year contract worth over six figures in their pocket.
What a life, right?
On Feb. 10, Liz Kritza, a Colorado Springs native, stopped imagining and started living when she was named the new CU volleyball head coach.
“It’s a great place to live,” Kritza said. “Every day I drive in to work, come over the hill and I have to pinch myself and say, ‘Do I really live here?’”
Fourteen years ago, Kritza graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs and found herself a new address at Tulane University in New Orleans.
There, she became a Green Wave and played volleyball for four years. After she graduated, she stuck around, first as a student assistant for the team, then a volunteer assistant before becoming the recruiting coordinator from 2001-2004 and the team’s head volleyball coach from 2005-2008.
Kritza’s coaching career started slow because of circumstances beyond her control.
Her first team finished 5-16, but the losses didn’t matter as much as dealing with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and Rita; the team had to relocate to College Station, Texas and had to cancel 10 non-conference matches.
The Tulane volleyball team bounced back in 2006 with a 15-11 record before taking off with back-to-back 28-6 seasons, and Kritza earned the title of Conference USA Co-Coach of the Year.
CU athletic director Mike Bohn was impressed with how Kritza rallied from her first season. He tabbed her as the team’s new coach less than a month after former coach Pi’i Aiu resigned from his post after 12 seasons.
Kritza said it was hard to decline the opportunity to move from Conference USA into the Big 12.
“In that first spring season I spent at Tulane, we didn’t train the way we train here,” Kritza said. “There’s a different caliber of athlete there. It’s a different league and a different caliber. Anytime you are competing in a league like the Big 12, you can actually make marked improvement a little bit faster because you are playing against that competition.
“At my last stop, one of the challenges was the scheduling component,” Kritza said. “You have to schedule so far out of your conference to get the competition that you have night in and night out in the Big 12.”
Kritza came to CU believing she could turn the program into a national championship contender. The Buffs have become stagnant, as they have missed the NCAA tournament the last two years after being in the Big Dance in nine of Aiu’s first 10 seasons.
So far, the remaining players can already feel Kritza’s pull.
“The coaches are pushing us harder than we have been pushed before, and we’re starting to realize that we can do this,” said junior middle blocker Schylur Edelman. “We can play at a higher level. We can pick this up more than we knew that we could. It’s been an eye-opener to have the new coaching staff come in and be like, ‘Listen, you guys have more potential to reach,’ and we’re going to do that.”
Of course, no program can become elite without great recruiting. Kritza plans to attract top talent by doing something she didn’t do–convincing them to stay home.
“From my very first day here, I said that this needs to be the flagship state university and we need to bring in more Colorado kids,” Kritza said. “We need more Colorado kids staying home. The junior high programs, the high school programs and the club programs here are in one of the elite areas in the country.”
“We need to do our work now to make sure that they understand that Colorado volleyball has to be the pinnacle of volleyball for any young girls playing in the state,” Kritza said. “We want them up watching our girls play during our matches in the fall. We want them here for our camping program, and the weight is on us to reach out to the community and really connect.”
If Kritza succeeds, her presence may be felt all the way north from Fort Collins. For now, her hometown down south is already buzzing about her return.
“My dad is a high school basketball coach at that school, so anytime I go back everyone is so excited,” said senior setter Kaitlyn Burkett, who graduated from St. Mary’s High in 2006. “They couldn’t stop talking about Liz Kritza being the head coach. They are all very excited about it.”
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Cheng Sio at Cheng.Sio@colorado.edu.