Despite Injuries, Buffs Continue Spring Drills With Experienced Team
Buffs To Compete In Spring Tournament At Denver University Saturday
The University of Colorado women's volleyball team is poised for a successful season returning many of its key players, and spring drills are a perfect way to fine tune fundamentals, but their preparations have been hindered as they continue to fight through an assortment of injuries.
"The spring has been really tough to work on things," said head coach Pi'i Aiu who will be in his 20th season with the volleyball program and ninth as the main man in charge. "Right now we have five hitters out and three hitters in the gym. It's really hard to work on systematic stuff because we don't have a full squad out there. So we've been working a lot on ball control and individual technique with passing and defense."
Colorado's middle blocking has been the position most affected by the bumps and bruises. Senior-to-be Lynsey Mann is still recovering from an ACL tear suffered early last fall. Returning starters Lara Bossow and Austin Zimmerman have either missed practice or have been limited due to an assortment of injury issues.
The Buffaloes will have their first chance this spring to face outside competition on Saturday, April 2, at Denver University's Spring Tournament. Colorado is expected to play the host Pioneers at the all day event as well as other area schools such as Northern Colorado, Metro State, Regis and Air Force.
Next weekend, April 8-9, 2004 NCAA Sweet 16 participant Penn State will be in Boulder to practice with the Buffaloes. Colorado will then conclude spring drills with a trip to New Orleans to face Tulane on Saturday, April 16.
Despite the lingering injuries, the Buffaloes have an experienced group returning.
This year's team will boast a very strong senior class which includes right side hitter Allie Griffin, an All-Big 12 and AVCA All-Central Region first team selection as a junior. Griffin led Colorado in kills with 420, was second on the team in digs and third in blocks during the regular season. She was fifth in the Big 12 in kills (4.27 kpg) in 2004 and is the Buff's active career leader in kills (797) and blocks (189).
"It's been really exciting playing these last three years," Griffin said. "We have a lot of seniors this year so we're already getting on the team and making sure that everybody is working hard and we finish strong in our last year."
Joining Griffin is outside hitter Nicole Carr who is CU's active leader in digs (876) and has a shot this season to join the 1,000-kill and 1,000-dig clubs.
"The time has just flown by," Carr said. "It's so crazy that I'm almost done. I'm going to have no regrets for this next year and I'm trying to give everything I have for this next season. I don't want to look back and wish I had done something different."
For these seniors to go out on a high note, they will have to do so against some of the stiffest competition in the country. The Big 12 sent seven teams to the NCAA tournament last season, which tied the Big Ten for the most in the nation.
"I'm sure the normal good teams will be good again this year, Carr said. "We're always right there in the middle of the pack so hopefully we'll be able to pull ahead and finish toward the top."
Last year the Buffs finished sixth in the Big 12 and advanced to their 14th overall NCAA tournament. They have made it to the tournament in 13 of the past 14 seasons, putting them in some elite company. Colorado is one of only 14 teams in the country to qualify for at least 13 NCAA I tournaments since 1991. The Buffs' 14-14 record in 2004 was also their 17th straight season with a .500 or better record.
"I think the Big 12 is a really tough conference," Aiu said. "I think we could finish anywhere in the top six or seven teams and still be a pretty good team."
Complimenting the returning seniors are some other players who will come into next season with a lot of experience. Junior setter Ashley Nu'u, a product of Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, earned Big 12 honorable mention accolades as a sophomore. Nu'u ranked fourth in the Big 12 in assists, and currently stands fifth on Colorado's all-time assists list. Ashley's twin sister, Amber Nu'u, is an outside hitter who started a good portion of the second half of the season after Santillana's shoulder injury put her on the sidelines. Another Amber, Amber Sutherland, played sparingly at outside hitter but saw her time on the court rise considerably towards the end of the season.
"Amber (Nu'u) did a good job last year," Aiu said. "She's certainly one of our more seasoned outside hitters. She did a great job toward the end of last year and I think she's ready to play."
Bossow and Zimmerman thrived at the middle blocker position combining for 3.7 kills and two blocks per game last season.
Joining the Buffs this season are freshmen Mallori Gibson of Bakersfield, Calif., and Lauren Schaefer of Mountain View, Calif. Gibson, a 5-11 outside hitter, was a four-year letter winner for Foothill High School. She was a four-time All-South East Yosemite League selection, a three-time all-area pick and a three-time team MVP.
Schaefer, a 6-3 middle blocker, led Los Altos High School to a 29-7 record as a senior and paced the Eagles to a gold medal at the Harbour Invitational Tournament, earning MVP honors. She was named the San Jose Mercury News Athlete of the Year and was a two-time all-league pick.
"Both of our scholarship freshmen will help us right away next year," Griffin said. "We need a deep bench and we need Mallori and Lauren to come in and help out because we've been hearing great things about them and we're excited to have them here."
The coaches are excited about the experience the team will carry into next season. The leaders of each class have already developed ways of maintaining team unity throughout the spring and into the fall.
"We try to meet with the coaches once or twice a month to make sure that we really communicate with each other and develop more of a relationship on and off the court so we know what everyone is dealing with," Carr said.
Aiu is counting on his seasoned veterans to step up and lead the team in order to improve from last year.
"If we don't have leadership on this team, then we will falter," Aiu said. "The seniors are going to have to take control and they are going to have to do it as a squad to make us better every day."