HUNTSVILLE, Texas - The University of Colorado volleyball team defeated Sam Houston State in an exciting come-from-behind 3-2 victory (19-25, 13-25, 25-21, 25-12, 15-12) to win the SHSU Invitational on Saturday night.
Freshman Alexis Austin earned MVP honors, hammering a career-best 16 kills in the win against SHSU. She was joined on the all-tournament squad by teammates sophomore Emily Alexis and freshman Nicole Edelman.
"Alexis Austin had a successful return to her home state in her collegiate debut, and the best thing is that she takes great pride not only in her own performance and development as a player, but most importantly in being a part of a great team," coach Liz Kritza said.
The Buffs are now 3-0 to start the season, the first time since 2008, and SHSU fell to 2-1.
"Despite our tumultuous start, this team showed great fortitude tonight and showed up when it mattered the most, when our backs were against the wall," Kritza said. "Being able to get so many players some playing experience during this tournament was an important part of the overall development of this team for the season."
CU recorded 57 total kills in the match, 34 of which came in the last three sets. Besides the 16 kills from Austin, there were four other Buffs who had seven or more kills. Nikki Lindow had nine and Alexis recorded eight. Kelsey English and Ana Pantovic each added seven. English led CU with a .312 hitting percentage with two errors on 16 attacks. Edelman handed out 39 assists but added three kills of her own.
The Bearkats notched 32 of their 53 kills in the first two sets and were hitting well above .300 in those sets until the Buffs shut them down. CU held them to a .147 percentage for the entire match. Devene Wells-Gibson tied Austin with a match-high 16 kills and Kim Black was second on the team with 12 kills.
Chelsey Keoho came off the bench to play the libero position in the third set and went on to lead the Buffs with 17 digs. Elysse Richardson added 10 digs, but the whole team chipped in, collecting 73 digs with 11 athletes recording at least one dig.
The first set was very close until SHSU took a three-point lead at 16-13, forcing the Buffs to use a timeout to try to slow down the pace. The Bearkats continued to pull away from the Buffs and went ahead by four at 21-17, causing CU to use its final timeout of the set. SHSU used a 4-2 run to finish the set 25-19. Both teams recorded 15 kills, but the Buffs hit just .195 compared to SHSU's mark of .333.
The Bearkats took an early 7-2 lead in the second set, causing Kritza to take a timeout. Despite taking the following two points, SHSU added four more to its total and the Buffs spent their final timeout (11-4). CU didn't give up and tried to claw its way back in the match, but the Buffs were unable to slow down the SHSU attack, falling 25-13.
SHSU once again took a 7-2 lead to start the set, but the Buffs climbed back into the frame with a 7-3 run, bringing the score to 10-9. CU continued to fight and evened the score 13-13 with a 6-4 run. After a timeout by SHSU, CU took a 14-13 lead, but the Bearkats struck again with a 3-0 run (16-14). The Buffs didn't give up and went ahead at 21-20 on a kill from Austin. After a SHSU timeout, the Bearkats won a long rally to tie the score. CU wasn't discouraged and finished the set with four straight points (25-21).
The Buffs used the momentum from the end of the third set to take an 8-3 lead in the fourth set. CU increased its lead to 13-4 and kept its intensity up, but the Bearkats slowly started to chip away at the lead with a 7-3 run, bringing the score to 16-11. The Buffs answered that run with a 6-0 run of their own, taking a nine-point advantage at 22-11. CU finished the set 25-12. The Buffs hit .200, but more importantly held the Bearkats to -.093.
SHSU got out to a 6-3 lead in the fifth set, at which point CU used a timeout to slow down the pace in the race to 15 points. The Bearkats took the next two points before English got the ball back for the Buffs with a kill (8-4). CU put together a 5-2 run to get within a point at 10-9, forcing SHSU to use its first timeout of the set. The Buffs took the following three points to take a 12-10 lead and held on for a 15-12 set victory.
"These young players showed great character by coming back after going down two sets and to take the fifth set after being down 3-8 at the turn," Kritza said. "This bodes well for the future of this program."
Pantovic posted a block on the final point of the match and had eight total blocks in the win.
"Ana was a steady presence today on the court and came up big for us at some key points when the pressure was on, including a stuff block to seal the match," Kritza said.
Earlier in the day the Buffs defeated Louisiana 3-0 (25-14, 25-20, 25-21). Alexis led the Buffs with a match-high 13 kills in the victory, but once again it was an all-around team effort. Lindow hammered nine kills and Austin recorded eight. English, who led the Buffs on Friday night against Texas Southern, notched six kills, while Emily Todd and Edelman each tallied four kills. Edelman directed the team to a .362 hitting efficiency, with 49 kills and 15 errors on 94 attacks. Edelman had 38 of CU's 47 assists.
Defensively Richardson picked up 19 digs, another match-high, and added six assists. CU's blocking was also working as they posted 8.0 team blocks. Austin had one block solo and two block assists, while Neira Ortiz Ruiz added one solo and one assist. Lindow led the squad with four block assists.
"The defensive efforts from both Richardson and Keoho during this tournament were a bright spot and a good sign as we continue to develop this team throughout the season," Kritza said.
The Buffs will open the home portion of their season August 31-September 1 with the Omni Hotels Colorado Volleyball Classic at the Coors Events Center. They will host Cornell at 7 p.m. on August 31 and on Sept. 1 they will face Northern Arizona at 1 p.m. and Fresno State at 7 p.m. Season tickets are available at CUBuffs.com for just $25 or by calling 303-49-BUFFS.