Written by  in Sports on Aug 25, 2011 17:42 / comments

The CU women’s volleyball team knows this season will be full of challenges.

The Buffs will be up against a lot of talent as they join the Pac-12, the nation’s most competitive conference which includes four top-25 teams. 

Head coach Liz Kritza said her team has been preparing for the Pac-12’s elite level of play, but that her players are more excited than anxious.

“There is nervousness, but great enthusiasm overall,” Kritza said. “It’s a huge opportunity to hone their skills against top players.”

The Buffs must adapt to both a weekend-loaded game schedule and the addition of new assistant coach Leonid Yelin, whom senior Lydia Blaha has been a huge help to the team so far. 

“He really knows college athletics,” Blaha said. “He cares about you getting better, but he’ll also tell you you’re doing good. We all love him and are so grateful to have him.”

In the midst of these changes, the Buffs are trying to stay focused on fitness, conditioning and preparation for their early-season competition. The team recently spent 10 days at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and their first scrimmage was held last Saturday in CU’s new practice facility.

Blaha said she noticed a positive transformation in her team since last season.

“We are a completely different team,” Blaha said. “We’re faster, we’re stronger, and we get along better.”

The team returns four of six starters from last season, including junior powerhouse Kerra Schroeder. Coach Kritza also expects several freshmen to have an immediate impact. She has high hopes for Colorado native Kelsey English, a middle blocker and high school high jump champ.

“Kelsey will be able to get in the mix quickly because of her athletic ability,” Kritza said.

The team returns three seniors, Lydia Blaha, Alyssa Valentine, and Anicia Santos, all of whom Kritza expects will take on leadership roles this season.

Santos said she was happy with her team’s performance in the first scrimmage, but she knows there is still plenty of work to do.

“We had some really great moments, but one of our weaknesses was staying focused in the fourth and fifth sets,” Santos said. “It’s going to be a long season, so we have to push ourselves in that area.”

The Buffs will test that focus this Friday when they play UNLV and UC Davis at the Hampton Inn & Suites Classic in Greeley, Colo. Although neither match will be easy, Santos said her team will benefit from playing unranked teams at the season’s start.

“It will be nice to get our feet wet with teams that are not top 10,” Santos said. “It’s going to be a great test to show what we can do.”

The Buffs won’t have long to recover from the tournament. Sunday, they will return to Boulder for their first home game of the season against Northern Colorado at 4 p.m.

Kritza said she’s not expecting peak performance from her team this weekend, but that she’s hoping for a strong start to the season.

“I don’t want their best volleyball right away; I want that by the time conference play rolls around and, more importantly, post-season play,” Kritza said. “I want the team to play with great confidence – to formulate and get comfortable.”

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Caryn Maconi at Caryn.maconi@colorado.edu.