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Buffs Take Down No. 11 Utah In Five

Mar 19, 2021

BOULDER – Senior Leah Clayton put the Colorado Volleyball team on her back at the end of the fifth set and the result was the Buffs' second-straight home win over a top-12 team as CU knocked off No. 11 Utah in five sets (19-25, 25-23, 15-25, 25-22, 15-13).  
 
The Buffs improve to 6-3 at home and 6-9 on the season while the Utes fall to 11-4 overall and 5-4 away from home.  The two teams will meet again Sunday in Salt Lake City.  The Buffs continue to prove they can play with any team in the country at the CU Events Center, as the Buffs' only three losses at home this season are two against No. 10 Washington, one of which was a five-set thriller, and once to No. 11 UCLA.  
 
After the Buffs saw an 11-6 fifth-set lead shrink to 11-10, an Elissa Alcantara kill put the Buffs up 12-10 and Clayton then scored CU's final three points of the match to secure the victory.  Clayton led the way offensively throughout the match and finished with 22 kills on 67 attacks, adding 10 digs for a double-double.  Her 22 kills are her second-highest total this season behind 29 against Washington and her 67 attacks is a season-high. 
 
Alcantara added 12 kills while the trio of Sterling Parker (11 kills, .476 hitting percentage), Alexia Kuehl (8 kills, .462), and Meegan Hart (7 kills, .462) all hit over .400 offensively.  The Buffs were led offensively in the 6-2 offense by setters Brynna DeLuzio (24 assists, 15 digs) and Jenna Ewert (29 assists, two aces, seven digs).  
 
Defensively, Zoe Neverdowski started at libero and recorded a career-high and CU season-high 23 digs and along with DeLuzio's 15 digs. Maya Tabron was also solid in the back row with 14 digs of her own.  Neverdowski's dig total is the first over 20 for a Buff this season.  Kuehl led the Buffs block with seven on the night and Clayton added four and Hart three.  
 
The two teams were relatively evenly matched statistically as the Buffs had a 67-64 advantage in kills and a 74-66 advantage in digs while the Utes had slight advantages in blocks (13-10), aces (9-8), and hitting percentage (.253-.240).  
 
After the trip to Salt Lake City on Sunday, the Buffs return to Boulder to close out the home season with two matches against Arizona State on Friday, March 26, and Sunday, March 28.  The Buffs then end the regular season in Los Angeles with a pair of matches at Southern California. 
 
HOW IT HAPPENED
 
FIRST SET
The Utes got out to a quick 3-0 lead before Alcantara got the Buffs on the board with a kill and the score remained in the three- to five-point advantage Utes for the first half of the set until they opened up a 10-point lead at 16-6.  The Buffs did have a mini-run near the end of the first set, using a 6-1 run to turn a 22-12 Utah lead down to five points at 23-18, but it wasn't enough as the Utes won 25-19. The Buffs out-killed the Utes 18-15 in the first set, but six CU errors, four attack errors, and two service errors, led to the Utes win.  
 
SECOND SET
The Buffs used the momentum gained from the end of the first set and jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead in the second set on the strength of Tabron's serving, she had one ace and Clayton had a block and kill early in the set.  Utah used a quick 10-2 run to turn the tables and take a 10-7 lead and the match remained a two- or three-point advantage for the Utes until the score was 18-15.  The Buffs used a 4-0 run to take a 19-18 lead and the match would be tied at 18s, 19s, 20s, 21s and 22s before the Buffs scored a traditional point on a block assist from Hart and Alcantara to take a 24-22 lead and go on to win the second set 25-23 off an Alcantara kill. Utah accumulated 15 kills to the Buffs 14 and both teams had two aces, but this set Utah's errors were the deciding factor as the Utes had six attack errors.    
 
THIRD SET
Utah rebounded early in the third set, opening up a 6-1 lead before a CU timeout and the Utes remained steady through the middle of the match, opening up a 16-8 lead.  The Buffs would reduce the lead to five points at 17-12 with a 4-1 run but that's as close as CU would get as the Utes would end the third set on an 8-3 run to win 25-15.  The Utes got plenty of pressure from the service line with four aces in the third set and added 10 kills.  The Buffs had just seven kills and had six errors including two attack, one ball handling, and three service errors.  
 
FOURTH SET
The Buffs got out quickly in the fourth set, opening a 7-2 run and forcing a Utah timeout.  Clayton and Alcantara had two early kills in that run and Hart had an ace.  The match remained in that four to six-point advantage for the Buffs until a 3-0 run that included a Kuehl kill, a Kuehl and Clayton block and Ewert ace opened up a 16-9 lead and the Utes used their final timeout of the set.  The Utes made the most of that second timeout and after a 6-2 run forced the Buffs to use their first timeout, clinging to an 18-15 lead.  Utah would keep it close for a few points and the Buffs opened up a five-point lead at 24-19 before Utah scored three straight to for CU's final timeout up 24-22.  Clayton would then end the set at 25-22 with a kill out of the timeout to force a fifth set.  The Buffs had 18 kills and three aces in the set while Utah tallied just 14 kills and one ace.  The Utes had just one error and the Buffs six to keep it close.     
 
FIFTH SET
The fifth set opened up with three straight ties at 1-1, 2-2, and 3-3 before the Buffs opened up a 5-3 lead and after a huge Tabron kill and Utah error, the Buffs held an 8-5 advantage at the midpoint of the set with the fifth-set timeout.  The Buffs extended their lead to 10-6 with a kill from Hart and Utah attack error before the Utes took their first timeout.  The Buffs quickly extended the lead to 11-6 but back-to-back Utah points forced the Buffs into their first timeout with an 11-8 lead.  Utah extended that run to 4-0 to before an Alcantara kill put the Buffs up 12-10.  Clayton would score the Buffs final three points with kills to make it 13-11, 14-12 and 15-13 to win.  Both teams had 10 kills in the final set and the Buffs had two aces and just two errors to secure the win. 

QUOTES
 
Jesse Mahoney
 
On The Match
"That was a really good volleyball match. That's one of the best teams in the country. You saw the way they started the match and played at a really high level. I was proud of our team for hanging in there and kind of weathering the storm in that first set. We kept our focus. I felt like we got better as the match went on, which was really good to see. I felt like we did a really nice job playing the system that we want, and adjusting the way we wanted to against Utah. It was just a really well played match on both sides. I'm excited that we finally kind of closed it out. We've struggled with doing that at the end of sets in a couple matches. Kudos to our players. Now we get to go on a plane and head to Salt Lake and do it all again. We'll have a lot more confidence."
 
On Depth
'It's good and bad, obviously, It's great that we've started I think three liberos this year now. It's good that we have several players that can come in and play at a high level. Brynna who is setting of course now, I think when she was in the libero roles she was fantastic. Katie had some really good matches. Zoe's had kind of a resurgence in practice. That's why we kind of gave her the look tonight and I thought she was fantastic. Then we have some players on the bench that maybe don't have an opportunity to get in the match as much as I would like. Part of that is the 6-2 doesn't allow for as many subs as maybe we would like. We have some players on the bench that I think are ready to go as well. Definitely a lot of depth on this team."
 
On The Season To Date
"Where we are this season, it's very unlikely for us to make the NCAA Tournament. We're talking about the process, getting better every day in practice, and getting better in every match. I'm really proud of our players. We came off a road trip in Arizona where we lost two that we really felt like, in order to make the postseason, we probably needed at least one, possibly two.  We haven't had a letdown. We maybe had one of our best weeks of practice this week so our mentality is in the right place and our heads are in the right place. Our players are playing hard which is all you can ask for. That is going to pay dividends down the road."
 
On Leah Clayton
"Leah was really good tonight. She's a workhorse. Took a ton of swings and most of them were heavy swings. Obviously Dani Drews is an All American. She's going to take a bunch of swings especially when Utah is stressed. Leah is a big time player and I think she plays her best in big-time moments. I thought it was fitting that she had the last kill  for us in that match."
 
 On Getting Attacks From The Middle
"We've got to get them the ball more. It comes down to being able to ball handle, how to serve receive and how to transition. First of all, I thought our setters did a fantastic job. They really managed and did a good job in system, and managed the out of system plays really well. I thought they gave our hitters a lot of really good looks.  When you have three players hitting over .400, that's a testament to our setters. I'm excited for Lex. Lex had some big time swings. Meegan is kind of doing what Meegan does. She is really efficient if we can get her the ball. Sterling has had two fantastic matches this year. Tonight, and then against UCLA a couple of weeks ago. Sterling feels good. Her shoulder feels right and can take big swings. She is a big time player."
 
Leah Clayton
 
On The Match
"No matter where we play our biggest thing is to try to go out and perform, do the game plan, and play our best. I think tonight we just had a really good connection. We're going to try to do that again at Utah on Sunday."
 
On Being Able To Play Volleyball
"It means a lot just to be out and playing. I think all of us can agree to that. It's been a crazy year. 2020 was not going as planned and just being able to play is always a great opportunity and always a blessing. I think that's just the kind of mentality that we try to go out with and perform and just be proud that we're out there and proud that we're wearing a Colorado jersey. That's what we try to do every time."
 
On Playing With Efficiency
"We were just more efficient with less errors and more blocks. We definitely set up on them. We didn't second guess ourselves. Everyone did their job and everyone did their job really well. I think that's something that we're going to take into watching film and try to basically redo it on Sunday."
 
Zoe Neverdowski
 
On Leah Clayton
"I think it's really helpful because Leah has experience with winning a championship. She always comes out and she's competing every single play, no matter the practice or it's just covering. Whatever it is she goes hard all the time. I think that rubs off on our entire team."
 
On Her First Libero Start
"I'm just excited to have my first game starting as a libero. I have a lot of people behind me, supporting me, and telling me, 'You are going to go out there and do great.' I'm just kind of trying to focus on playing for them, playing for myself, having fun and going hard for every ball."
 
On Playing Out Of System
"In the past I've definitely struggled with out of system balls, but I think our team did really well tonight driving, following and seeing every set that they got. Even the ones that weren't perfect necessarily were managing really well. I think that definitely contributed to our win."