Buffs Edge Out Utah To Open Pac-12 Play
BOULDER— Taylor Simpson recorded 23 kills to help the University of Colorado volleyball team outlast Utah 3-2 (25-14, 25-16, 25-27, 22-25, 15-12) on Thursday night to win its Pac-12 Conference opener at the Coors Events Center.
The win snapped a three-match losing streak and improved the Buffs to 9-4 this year, 1-0 in the Pac-12. The loss is just the second Utah has suffered this season as the Utes moved to 10-2 overall (0-1 Pac-12).
"This was huge," head coach Liz Kritza said. "We had a tough weekend (last weekend) by every measure, but one thing about this team is that they're very resilient. We can come off of a really tough weekend where we really had a lot of hard lessons and I knew that we would bounce back."
Simpson hit .375 with just five errors on 48 attacks. As a team, CU hit .333 with 76 kills and 21 errors on 165 swings. Nicole Edelman handed out 34 assists, while Gabby Simpson recorded 28 in the win.
Gabby Simpson was also second on the team in kills, hammering 12 in the win. Katelyn Cuff had a career-night with 11 kills, including the last three in the fifth set which won the match for the Buffs. Cuff also hit .556 with just one error on 18 attacks.
"It was awesome," Cuff said. "It was an awesome experience and an awesome opportunity. But, at the end of the day, I'm just really happy we won and really happy we did it as a team."
The Buffs out-dug Utah 61-50 and were led by Cierra Simpson who recorded 20 digs. Taylor Simpson was second on the team with 11 digs and Gabby Simpson picked up nine digs. At the net, the Buffs posted 9.0 team blocks and were led by Anna Pfefferle's six blocks, two solo and four assists.
The Buffs started well in the first set, going up 11-3. CU had a 15-9 lead at the media timeout, but Utah came out of the break with a pair of points. The Buffs answered back with seven straight points, during which the Utes used both timeouts, go take a commanding 22-11 lead. UU finally sided out with a kill and then the two teams traded off points until Ortiz Ruiz finished the set with a kill (25-14).
The second set started off much closer. UU took a 9-7 lead before the Buffs strung together four straight points to go up 11-9. The Utes took the following point, but then CU recorded a 4-1 run to take a 15-11 lead at the media timeout. The Buffs continued to own the lead and at 19-13, UU took its first timeout of the set. The break didn't slow down the Buffs, and they increased their lead to 23-15, forcing the Utes to take their final timeout of the set. CU came out of the break strong, taking two of the next three points to win the set 25-16.
The third set was another battle. The score was even at 20-20 when the Buffs called a timeout. Both sides didn't give up much and it was tied again at 23-23. The Buffs got to set point after an error by the Utes (24-23), forcing UU to use a timeout. Utah took the following point off an error, but CU took the next point with another Utah error (25-24). After UU's second timeout, the Utes took two straight to get to set point (26-25), forcing the Buffs to use their final timeout of the set. Utah finished the set 27-25 on the following point with a block by Bailey Bateman and Shelby Dalton.
CU trailed 10-5 in the fourth set and called a timeout. The Buffs chipped away at the deficit and got within a point at 16-15. The score was tied at 16-16 on the next point after an error by Utah. CU went ahead on the following point with a block by Anna Pfefferle. The two teams battled and the score would be tied three more times before UU would take a 22-20 lead. The Buffs took the next point after using a timeout (22-21), but Utah answered with a kill on the next point and went on to take the set 25-22.
"I think what we did really well was spreading out the offense instead of focusing on one hitter (in the first set)," Gabby Simpson said. "Everyone knows that when you set one hitter a bunch, then the blockers are just going to go to that hitter and block them. I think Nicole and I did a pretty good job of giving everyone a one on one block every time."
"I think we cooled off in the third and fourth sets. I don't think our energy was high as it was [in the first two sets]. I think we could have pulled it out if we would have been just a little bit more energetic and if everyone would have just done their job."
The fifth set saw UU take an early 3-1 lead, but the Buffs put together a 5-2 run to go up 6-5. CU had an 8-7 lead when the two teams exchanged sides and after the media timeout, UU evened the score with a kill. The Buffs recorded a two-point lead at 11-9, forcing the Utes to use a timeout. UU tied the set up four points later at 12-12, and this time it was CU that called a timeout. The break worked as CU finished off the set with three straight kills from Cuff.
"Challenging this group of players is exactly what needed to happen and they responded really well tonight," Kritza said. "I think all that they did was prove to themselves and everybody else that we are the team that we thought we were at the beginning of the season regardless of the ups and down, regardless of having different lineups on the floor or roster availability due to injury. Those things happen.
"Every program has different challenges throughout the season, but the programs that can keep progressing, keep developing and keep moving through are the ones that are really happy at the end of November and early December. That's what our aim is, so I'm really proud of this whole group collectively. We went deep into the bench, everybody did their job, my assistant coaches did a good job preparing this team and regrouping them after the most difficult weekend to date for us."
The Buffs now head to Eugene, Ore. to take on the No. 13 Oregon Ducks (11-0) on Saturday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. MT. The match won't be on TV but will be streamed at GoDucks.com.