BOULDER — In a match that went down to the wire, the University of Colorado came away victorious against Utah, winning 3-2 (16-26, 25-23, 23-25, 25-22, 16-14) in the final home match of the season at the Coors Events Center on Wednesday night.
“This was absolutely a must win for us,” coach Liz Kritza said. “At a few points within this match, we had to remind ourselves how important it was. The only way you execute on days like this today [like these kids did] is to focus. Just like in season, in different segments, you focus on one match at a time. We had to do that today. We stayed focused on one set at a time and actually breaking it down in to one ball at a time.
“I’m really proud of their ability today to stay focused and get us out of trouble, and more importantly, maintain a lead when we had it. We can fight so hard to get a three or four point lead and let it disappear quickly. It’s part of this sport. I could not be more proud of the team effort. This is exactly what we needed. We came up with the biggest points when we needed them.”
It was also senior night, and the Buffs honored all six of their seniors throughout the match as Emily Alexis, Jessica Aschenbrenner, Nikki Lindow, Ana Pantovic, Elysse Richardson and Kerra Schroeder played their final match at the CEC.
Junior Taylor Simpson hammered 20 kills, with many of those coming in several key points in the match. She also hit .261, set 46 times and recorded eight errors. Simpson was also CU’s top defender with 22 digs. With the 20 kills and 22 digs, she became the first Buff since Schroeder in 2011 to record a 20-20 double-double.
“At some points, I did [feel pressure], but I am really confident with the people next to me and I know that they have my back and I have their back, so not that bad,” Simpson said.
Lindow also had a great match for the Buffs with 13 kills and hit .400 with three errors on 25 swings. She led CU at the net with four total blocks, one solo and three assists.
“Words can’t describe the way I feel right now, honestly,” Lindow said. “I’ve put a lot of work in my last four years, and this team that I got to end with, I couldn’t ask for better teammates, people who can step up and take a challenge and keep our consistency and do what Taylor [Simpson] did tonight. We were down one point 14-13, and that’s stressful. That’s stressful to get behind the line, put the ball down and do what she did. The effort is just remarkable, but I am just happier than anything. I can’t even speak right now. I’m just so excited. Hopefully we can get the bid to go to the tournament and keep going, keep the winning streak going.”
Alexis Austin also made a strong showing in the match. She recorded 12 kills for the Buffs and posted three block assists. As a team, CU recorded 64 kills and hit .225. Nicole Edelman handed out 49 assists with four kills of her own. She too got into the action at the net with three block assists and served up three aces.
CU out-dug the Utes 62-56. After Simpson’s 22, the next best on the team came from the younger Simpson, Cierra, who picked up 12 digs. Edelman also added 10 for the Buffs.
Utah was led by Morgan Odale, who recorded 16 kills and hit a match-best .615. Chelsey Schofield added 15 kills for the Utes. They recorded 70 kills in the effort and hit .293 in the match.
With the win, CU improves to 17-12 overall, 9-10 in the Pac-12, which keeps their NCAA Tournament dreams alive. Utah is now 19-12 (8-11 Pac-12).
“I think our chances are better because we are separating ourselves from the middle of the pack,” Kritza said. “Quite honestly, the discussion throughout the week had been ‘who will win against Colorado-Utah’. They are so similar. Their RPI is higher. That is a tournament team as well. We have legitimate nine or ten teams in this league that should go whether or not the selection committee sees that or not.”
The first set started off with Utah taking a 13-10 lead, causing CU to use a timeout. The Buff came out of the timeout with a kill from Schroeder, but couldn’t close the gap and the Utes increased the advantage to 20-15, forcing CU to take another timeout. The Utes took the next four points out of the break to get to set point (24-15). Neira Ortiz Ruiz answered with a kill for the Buffs, but UU finished the set with a kill on the following point (25-16).
The Buffs took the lead from the start of the second frame, going up 7-4 and maintained the lead at 15-10 at the media timeout. CU kept the pressure on and had a 20-15 advantage when the Utes decided it was time for a break. UU took the first two points afterward, but the Buffs sided-out with a kill from Austin (21-17). The Utes answered back with two straight points to force CU to take its first timeout of the set (21-19).
Utah took the next two points to even the set at 21-21, but the Buffs didn’t get discouraged and took the following two points with a kill from Austin and a block from Austin and Lindow to go back up 23-21, causing UU to use its final timeout of the set. Again, the Utes answered and tied the set (23-23), but the Buffs were ready to close it out with a kill from Lindow and a Utah attack error (25-23).
The third set was tied at 10-10 when the Buffs put together a 7-3 run to go up 17-13, causing UU to use a timeout. The Utes rallied and got the score within one point at 18-17, and this time it was the Buffs who took a timeout. Out of the break, UU came back to even the score at 21-21 and went ahead on the following point. The teams traded off points until the Utes put together two in a row to take the set 25-23.
The Utes recorded an 8-5 lead in the fourth set before the Buffs called a timeout. CU got back within a point of the Utes (12-11) and hung with them before tying the set up at 17-17, forcing UU to take a timeout. The Buffs took the following three points to take a 20-17 advantage and made UU take its final break of the set. CU kept on the offensive pressure out of the break with a kill from Lindow (21-17). The Utes didn’t go quietly and took four of the next six points (23-21). The Buffs answered by taking two of the next three with kills from Lindow and Simpson to win the set 25-22.
The Buffs went up 7-3 in the fifth set with a 5-0 run, but the Utes answered with a 3-0 run, bringing the score to 7-6. UU tied the set up at 8-8, but Simpson gave the lead back to the Buffs with a kill. It was a battle to the finish with six more ties before the Buffs scored three straight points to take the set, and the match, 16-14, with the last point coming off a Taylor Simpson kill.
The Buffs will conclude the regular season on Friday, Nov. 29 against No. 7 USC in Los Angeles at 2 p.m. (PST). The match will be streamed live on CUBuffs.com. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will be televised live on Sunday, Dec. 1, at 7:30 p.m. MT on ESPNU.
“After this win, I am really motivated for the next game, and I think that we can do really well against USC,” Simpson said.