BOULDER - The University of Colorado volleyball team played an inspiring match against the No. 8 nationally ranked USC Trojans on Saturday night at the Coors Events Center, but fell 3-0 (31-29, 25-19, 25-17).
"Pushing USC to 31-29 is not enough for us; it simply can't be," coach Liz Kritza said. "Otherwise, we won't be progressing the way that we need to be. There was a lot of learning out there tonight, and I can see that. Despite the bitter taste of not pulling out the win that we want, I can see the improvement in my players."
The Buffs were playing for lone senior Michelle Miller, who was playing her final career match at the CEC. Miller is serving as a captain this season and had been an important part of the team's development over the course of the last three years.
"I talked to the team before the game, and everyone really wanted to do their best and play their hardest for my last game and put everything on the line," she said.
Miller came to the Buffs as a setter but has also filled a variety of roles during her time at CU. Kritza has been impressed with Miller and she, as well as the rest of the team and coaches, will miss her greatly.
"She is the most selfless player I've ever coached," Kritza said. "She really epitomizes what this team is about, as far as the foundation and structure that we want to build a successful program on. I really can't find enough words to describe how important she's been in that. She's really been a great model for a lot of the younger players coming up, and we're really going to miss her."
CU looked like a much different team in the effort tonight compared to the match on Friday night against No. 6 UCLA and came close to taking a set off of one of the nation's top programs.
"Passing was awesome tonight," Nikki Lindow said. "We had some moments, but that's going to happen with us. I think that's what we're working on, and we dramatically improved."
Neira Ortiz Ruiz led the Buffs with 11 kills and Alexis Austin was second on the team with nine kills. Both Lindow and Ana Pantovic hammered eight kills in the match and Kelsey English tacked on six kills in the effort.
The Buffs hit .117 with 42 kills and 28 errors on 120 attacks, which included 21 kills and a .167 hitting efficiency in the first set. Nicole Edelman handed out 36 assists for the Buffs.
Colorado picked up 47 digs, six more than USC's 41. Chelsey Keoho had a match-best 12 digs and Austin added eight. Jessica Aschenbrenner recorded seven digs and Miller and Edelman each added six digs. CU had 5.5 team blocks and was led by Pantovic's three block assists.
USC was led by Samantha Brico, who had 12 kills. Katie Fuller added 11 kills and hit .312 while Sara Shaw had double-digit kills with 10 while hitting .304. The Trojans hit .235 in the match with 41 kills, one less than the Buffs.
USC was also a force at the net, posting 12.0 team blocks. Alicia Ogoms led the way with six blocks (two solo and four assists) and Fuller put up five block assists.
The Buffs played a very good first set, sticking close to the Trojans through the entire game which had 23 ties and 10 lead changes. USC had an 8-7 lead before the Buffs used a 6-2 run to take a 13-10 advantage. The Trojans fired back with four straight points to go back up 14-13.
After more back-and-forth play, the Buffs once again had the lead at 19-17. USC retook the lead again and had set point at 24-23. CU fought off the next two set points for USC and then had four set points of its own before the Trojans finished the game at 31-29.
USC took the early lead in the second set at 9-6, but the Buffs came back with a 5-0 run to take an 11-9 advantage. CU had the lead at 15-13 when the Trojans put together a 7-0 run to go up 20-15. After a timeout, Austin sided out for the Buffs with a kill, but then the Trojans took the ball back and closed the set with a 5-3 run (25-19).
The Trojans took a 9-5 lead to start the third set. The Buffs kept attacking, but USC didn't let up and increased their advantage in the set to 19-11, forcing the Buffs to use a timeout. The Trojans kept pressing and got their first match point at 24-14. CU fought off the first three match points, but couldn't keep the rally going and USC finished the match with a kill (25-17).
With the loss, CU is now 14-14 overall, 4-12 in the Pac-12. The Trojans improved to 24-4, 12-4 in the Pac-12.
The Buffs will hit the road next week for a pair of matches in Arizona. They will face Arizona on Nov. 16 in Tucson, Ariz. at 7 p.m. and Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz. on Nov. 18 at 6 p.m.