AIR FORCE ACADEMY - For the first time since 2003, the University of Colorado volleyball team is 8-2 to start the season as it overcame a late rally by the Air Force Falcons to win 3-2 on Thursday night at Falcon Court at East Gym.
The match was full of excitement as three of the five set required extra points (37-35, 28-26, 24-26, 21-25, 15-12). The Falcons fell to 3-7 overall as the Buffs also improved to a 4-0 all-time record against Air Force.
"Credit to a tough Air Force squad tonight, they were relentless in their defensive pursuit and they simply would not go quietly," CU coach Liz Kritza said.
Neira Ortiz Ruiz led the Buffs with a career-high 14 kills and Alexis Austin was second on the team with 12 kills. Emily Alexis added 11 kills for the Buffs and Kelsey English hammered 10 kills. The Buffs recorded 67 kills to tie a season-high in the win and hit .141. Nicole Edelman handed out 50 of CU's 63 assists and added eight kills of her own.
The Falcons were led by Cami Richan's 17 kills and Maggie Sherrill added 15 kills.
Elysse Richardson was busy in the back row for CU, recording a career-best 23 digs. She also added five assists and a service ace. Edelman had 13 digs for the Buffs and had two aces of her own. Nikki Lindow posted a match-high eight blocks with one solo and seven assists. English added five (one solo and four assists).
"Playing matches like this, where we are required to really come together to solve problems and find ways to be successful are good for young players and young teams," Kritza said. "The learning that goes along with struggles like this is essential for a team working to build its identity and collective character."
The Falcons went up 16-14 in the first set after a 6-1 run forcing the Buffs to use their first timeout of the match. CU came back to tie the score at 16 out of the timeout and would eventually take the lead back at 20-19. The Buffs had a 23-21 advantage before the Falcons tied the set again at 23 and this time CU spent a timeout. The Buffs had set point (24-23) before the Falcons took the next two points to get their own set point. Both teams battled back and forth before the Buffs eventually won the nerve-wracking set 37-35 with a kill from Austin. The set score tied the most points CU has scored in a single set, which they did in 2006 against Kansas State.
"Pulling out the first set 37-35 showed poise and patience, until Austin decided it was enough and finished off the set with a resounding kill," Kritza said. "That is a good step for a freshman to make."
AFA took a 9-5 lead in the second set before the Buffs called a timeout. The Falcons extended it to 12-6 before CU put together a 7-2 run to get within a point at 13-14. After an Air Force timeout, CU tied the set at 14-14 with an ace from Edelman and went up 18-16, forcing AFA to use its final timeout. The Falcons came back with a 7-4 to take a 23-22. After a timeout by the Buffs, Austin tied the set (23-23) with a kill. This set would go extra points as well with the Buffs winning 28-26.
The Buffs got out to a much better start in the third set, going up 9-3, but AFA came back with a 5-2 run to get within three points of the Buffs. The Falcons tied the set at 12 and went up 19-16. The Buffs took the next point and on Chelsey Keoho's serve added five more to take a 22-19 advantage. CU had set point at 24-22 but the Falcons came back to finish the set with a 4-0 run (24-26).
CU had a 6-3 lead in the fourth game before AFA used a 7-2 to take a 10-8 advantage. The Falcons increased their lead to 18-13, forcing the Buffs to use a timeout. The Buffs tried to get back in the frame and but the lead was too much and they fell 21-25.
The fifth game was another close one and the Buffs led 8-7 at the side change. The Buffs added two more points to their score (10-7) before the Falcons called timeout. AFA answered with a 4-1 run to tie the set at 11. The game would be tied again two points later at 12-12, but the Buffs finished the set and the match with the next three points (15-12).
"We were not playing very efficiently and it cost us some very tough points tonight," Kritza said. "We were making entirely too many unforced errors, which is something, that with effort and focus, we can control."
CU will host CSU Bakersfield and Norfolk State on Saturday as part of the Colorado Invitational at the Coors Events Center. CU will open the day at 11 a.m. against CSUB and at 3 p.m. the Buffs will take on NSU. CSUB and NSU will face off in the final match of the day at 7 p.m. Live stats are free at CUBuffs.com and both matches will be streamed on the Pac-12 Digital Network (http://pac-12.com/live/cubuffs.aspx).
"We have to turn-around and make sure we are ready for two more matches this weekend, so we must take our points for improvement from this performance and work to be ready for an improved performance," Kritza said.
Fans will only need to purchase one ticket for both of CU's matches on Saturday and season tickets are still available just $25. They can be purchased at CUBuffs.com or by calling 303-49-BUFFS. Parking for the matches is free. There will also be a post-match autograph session after the 3 p.m. match with the Buffs and Norfolk State, followed by a youth clinic in the upper gym.