Buffaloes Host Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge
BOULDER — The undefeated Colorado women's volleyball team will play host to the 2022 Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge this Saturday and Sunday, hosting No.14-ranked Washington, No.19-ranked Illinois and Iowa.
Colorado will play Illinois first at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday before facing Iowa Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Washington will face the Hawkeyes Saturday at noon and the Illini at 11 a.m. on Sunday. All of the matches will be streamed on Pac-12 Insider.
The Buffaloes (3-0) are coming off a Buffs Invitational title run led by their strong defensive play. Colorado led the NCAA through the opening weekend with 44 total blocks. The effort led to Alexia Kuehl being named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week with a conference-best 22 blocks, good for sixth in the NCAA.
The middles were a strong part of CU's success with both Kuehl and Meegan Hart picking up their first career double-double against Denver. Hart finished with 40 kills and a .543 hitting percentage, the latter of which ranks her 10th in the NCAA.
On the offensive end, transfer Lexi Hadrych made her presence felt immediately with a team-best 43 kills hitting .341 from the outside position. She also added a double-double against Denver, recording 20 kills and 14 digs. Hadrych and Hart are each averaging more than 3.3 kills per set while Maya Tabron is averaging nearly three kills per set. All three women recorded 10 or more kills in their first three matches.
The setter position is still a battle with sophomore Taylor Simpson taking the majority of the plays. She recorded 114 assists, averaging 9.5 assists per set while Brynna DeLuzio came in with Sterling Parker to spark the Buffs when needed in the comeback over Denver.
The other position battle underway is for the libero with DeLuzio having practiced as a setter all fall camp. Katie Lougeay earned the nod to start in the first three matches and led the team with 38 digs. She switched out numerously with Savannah Perry who had three service aces.
The Buffs will look to lean heavily on their efficient hitting percentage of .294 while limiting their opponents to just .142 hitting through their strong blocking.
Colorado head coach Jesse Mahoney brings a 27-2 home nonconference record into the tournament that includes upsetting No.13 Penn State and No.17 Illinois in this same tournament back in 2016. Mahoney and staff are 8-2 in the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge, including four wins over Illinois in five tries. In 2019, CU swept Illinois when it was ranked fifth in the NCAA, the only top-10 win for Mahoney at CU. Colorado is 3-0 against Iowa since the Hawkeyes took over for Penn State.
Tickets for the tournament will include both matches for each day and are available at cubuffs.com/22vbtix. Sunday's match will be the 500th home match for Colorado in the program's history.
The Illini are 1-1 to start the season after being swept by No.9 Georgia Tech in the season opener. They responded by defeating Ole Miss on their home court in four sets. Illinois is hitting .207 this season while allowing their opponents to hit .249. Much of the hitting discrepancy is due to Illinois being blocked 2.7 times per set while only recording 1.7 blocks per set.
Raina Terry and Jessica Nunge each have 22 kills to lead Illinois in the early season and are the only hitters with more than 11 kills. Setter Diana Brown is averaging just less than 9.5 assists per set. She also is tied with Caroline Barnes with a team-best 19 digs while Rylee Hinton has a team-best six blocks.
The Hawkeyes went 2-1 during the opening weekend with wins against Gonzaga and Florida International before being swept by Oklahoma in their first away match. Iowa is holding their opponents to a .115 hitting percentage while hitting .212, led by a 12.8 assists per set mark. Iowa is also averaging 16 digs per set, three more than their opponents.
Michelle Urquhart leads Iowa with 32 kills and has three teammates with more than 20. All four of the top hitters are hitting .227 or better. Defensively, Mari Hinkle is averaging 4.8 digs per set while Delaney McSweeney has a team-best 9.5 blocks.
Oklahoma was able to hold Iowa to a .168 hitting percentage and keep Urquhart to a -.043 hitting percentage with just five kills. The Hawkeyes hit .353 against Gonzaga with Urquhart recording 17 kills. In both wins, Iowa held their opponent under .09 hitting.