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The University of Colorado volleyball team started its conference season seeing red, once again. But this time, it was in a new conference and against a new rival.
The Buffs lost their inaugural Pac-12 match to Utah in straight sets, 25-22, 25-21, 25-21.
The newest members of the conference came in with a fairly equal opportunity to win. In the 2011 Pac-12 Volleyball Coaches Poll, CU was picked to finish 11th, while the Utes were picked just one spot higher.
The Buffs started the night believing they could win, but 25 errors and a hitting percentage of less than .250 each set made it too difficult a feat.
“I think actually we got in our own way quite a few times, and I think that was our biggest obstacle,” senior middle-blocker Anicia Santos said after the loss.
Santos said the TV crews, crowd and pressure of playing their first Pac-12 match worked to distract them from focusing on the jobs they needed to do.
CU Head Coach Liz Kritza said she was disappointed about the loss because she knows that if the team had played to their full potential, they could have won.
Kritza points to poor first contacts and ball control as the leading factors in the loss, but she says she wants to grow from the positives of the match.
“We know where we were deficient,” Kritza said. “When we’re in system, we can score. It was evident. It was clearly a different team when we were out of system.”
Kritza believes that when her team is “in system”, they can beat any team in the country. She fully lives by the idea that “anyone can win on any given night,” but not when the team plays they way they did in Tuesday’s match.
“Everyone was kind of a little off,” senior setter Alyssa Valentine said. “No one was having a bad game, but we all weren’t playing to our best game and we had to bring our best game in order to beat them. They’re not the kind of team that’s just going to roll over and give us points.”
Santos added that the team needs to bring their “A” game, going after every ball and every point to be competitive in what’s called the “Conference of Champions.”
The Buffs didn’t bring their “A” game, but they did show that they can hang with some of the country’s best. In the three sets, the score was tied 25 times and the lead changed eight times.
In the closing of each set, the Buffs never fell behind by more than four points.
CU came out to a 6-3 lead to start the match. The score remained tight for the remainder until the Utes pulled away at 21-18. A kill by CU sophomore Nikki Lindow and a block by CU freshman Emily Alexis helped bring the set within two at 23-21, but the Buffs fell at 25-22.
The Utes came out strong in the second set, and a mini-run by the Buffs helped the team to pull within one point at 10-9. Utah countered with a 6-1 run giving them the 16-10 lead. The Buffs saved two set points, but hit just .135 and dropped the set 25-21.
The Buffs refused to go down without a fight in the third set and took a 9-7 lead. The Utes battled back to tie the set at 12 all. Utah continued its dominance, gaining a 19-17 advantage. The Buffs tied things back up at the 20 mark, but the Utes once again out-powered CU, taking the final set 25-21.
Valentine and Santos said that they wish the match was a win, but are both excited to get started in the conference play. CU will get a strong taste of conference play with a two-day road trip to face the top two teams in the country, Cal and Stanford.
“We take this disappointment, this anger, this frustration and we turn it into something that’s actually really productive and really good,” Kritza said. ”We have a huge challenge ahead of us, but it’s also a huge opportunity. To test yourself against the top two teams in the country on the same weekend, is unheard of. No one else really has this unique opportunity so we’re going to make the best of it.”
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Marlee Horn at Marlee.firstname.lastname@example.org.