BOULDER— The University of Colorado played inspiring volleyball on Friday night to defeat No. 11 UCLA in front of a crowd of almost 2,800 at the Coors Events Center 3-1 (27-29, 25-15, 24-26, 25-23, 15-12).
The win is the first ever for the Buffs against the Bruins and it’s also just the third time CU has ever taken a set or more against UCLA. CU improved to 9-2 (1-1 Pac-12) with the win, while UCLA fell to 9-3 (0-2 Pac-12).
“This is the most exciting night I have been a part of here, not just because of the victory, but because of the effort on the court and what the administration did [as far as marketing goes] to pack this place,” coach Liz Kritza said. “It was really a significant night for our program to be able to take out the No. 11-ranked team in the country in front of a crowd like this on our home court. It’s a milestone for our program. Excitement doesn’t do it justice.”
This was the first win for the Buffs over a ranked team since 2008 when they defeated No. 2 Nebraska in four sets (25-19, 27-25, 18-25, 25-16), snapping a 41-match losing streak to ranked opponents.
“I couldn’t be more proud about how we came back tonight,” Kritza said. “I like that these kids have guts, they’re fearless, and most importantly that they play different roles even when I am subbing people in and out. They all get the focuses and the purposes, that’s why we are able to do that, because we are a good team.”
“It’s so exciting to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” junior outside hitter Taylor Simpson said about the win. “It’s so awesome that I can’t put it in words. I can’t wait to see what we do with the rest of the season.”
Simpson led the Buffs with 15 kills and both Nikki Lindow and Neira Ortiz Ruiz hammered 14 kills each. Lindow had a monster game as she also added a career-high 12 blocks, which tied the fourth best in CU history and hit a team-high .464 with just one error on 28 swings.
Kelsey English and Kerra Schroeder each had eight kills in the victory. English had three block assists and Schroeder helped defensively with 11 digs. Simpson also earned her fifth double-double this season with 15 digs and added six blocks. Nicole Edelman handed out a career-best 56 assists and added four kills and 12 digs. Cierra Simpson also came up with 15 digs in the victory.
As a team, the Buffs recorded 69 kills and hit .211 while UCLA had 66 kills and hit .169. The Buffs also out-blocked UCLA 17.0-12.0 and had the slight edge in digs (72-71).
“What’s even better is that we showed some serious teamwork tonight.” Lindow said. “It was the most calm feeling I have ever had on the court. We had confidence in our eyes and no question on how to handle this game even in the fourth set. It was the greatest feeling I have ever felt while being a part of this team.”
The Bruins had two players with 18 kills each, Mariana Aquino and Karsta Lowe. Karly Drolson led the Bruins with a career-high 23 digs and Zoe Nightingale recorded a team-high nine blocks.
Colorado played a very close set with the Bruins despite falling behind 12-6 to start the game. CU came back to tie the score at 20-20 and from that point, it was a back and forth battle to the end. The Buffs fought off four UCLA set points before the Bruins were able to put together two straight points to take the frame 29-27. CU had 19 kills in the set and hit .233 while UCLA recorded 14 kills and hit .286.
The Buffs used the momentum they gained from the end of the first set and pounced on UCLA, taking a 9-6 lead in the second set. The Buffs were hot and continued to add to their lead, going up 20-12. The Bruins didn’t have an answer and CU easily finished the set 25-15. The Buffs hit .233 in the set and held the Bruins to -.024.
UCLA took the advantage to start the third set (7-3), but the Buffs rallied back to even the score with a 4-0 run (7-7). The Buffs took their first lead of the set at 11-10 with a kill from Ortiz Ruiz and added to their lead with a 6-2 run to take a 17-12 advantage. UCLA got back within two points at 19-17 and tied the score two points later.
After a CU timeout, the Bruins took the lead back with a kill (20-19), but Taylor Simpson answered for the Buffs with her own kill (20-20). The score was tied again at 21-21 before UCLA went up 24-22. CU fought off two set points with kills from Lindow and Taylor Simpson to tie the set again (24-24). This time the Bruins used a timeout and took the first two points out of the break to win the set 26-24.
UCLA got out to a 12-2 lead in the fourth set. CU started to come back slowly and forced the Bruins to take a timeout at 12-6 after four straight points. After the break, the Buffs added three straight points to bring the score to 12-9 and completed the comeback by tying the score at 15-15. CU went ahead for the first time in the set at 18-17 after a huge block from English and Taylor Simpson. The Buffs took a two-point lead at 22-20 to force UCLA to call its final timeout of the set, after which CU would go up 24-21 on the Bruins. UCLA fought off the first two set points (24-23), which made CU spend a timeout. Out of the break, Ortiz Ruiz finished the set with a kill (25-23).
The fifth set was another battle for the two teams. CU took an 8-7 lead at the side-change and went up 9-7. After a quick UCLA break, the Buffs added to their lead, going up 11-8. The Bruins weren’t just going to go away and snatched the following two points, forcing CU to take a timeout. Lindow hammered a kill to give the Buffs a two-point cushion (12-10). UCLA took the following point, but the Buffs didn’t get discouraged and were able to finish the set and the match 15-12. CU hit .625 in the final set with 10 kills and no errors on 16 attacks.
“I do want to say thank you to State Farm, they sponsored this match,” Kritza said. “It was a significant contribution. It was a great atmosphere for our players. They got a bunch of tickets out to the community. It’s one of the best matches I have seen here for volleyball in the Coors Event Center. Thanks to the fans and to State Farm. I also have to give kudos to my assistant coaches for preparing this team and making good adjustments when needed.”
The Buffs will be back in action on Tuesday, October 1 with a contest against Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo. at 5 p.m.