2014 Colorado Buffaloes volleyball

Head coach: Liz Kritza, 6th season (51-98 at CU; 127-137 career)

Last year: 18-14, 9-11 in the Pac-12; Lost to Minnesota in 2nd round of NCAA Tournament

Key returners: OH Alexis Austin, 6-2, Jr.; MB Katelyn Cuff, 6-2, So.; S Nicole Edelman, 6-0, Jr; MB Kelsey English, 6-2, Sr.; MB/RS Joslyn Hayes, 6-3, So.; OH/RS Neira Ortiz Ruiz, 6-5, Sr.; DS/S Cierra Simpson, 6-0, So.; OH Taylor Simpson, 6-3, Sr.

Newcomers to watch: MB Rachel Hargis, 6-4, Sr. (played CU basketball the past four years); MB Anna Pfefferle, 6-2, Fr.; OH Stephanie Shadley, 6-0, Fr.; S Gabby Simpson, 6-3, Fr.

Outlook: After posting their first winning season in seven years, the Buffs are looking for more. They have more talent than they've had in years, including the three super-talented Simpson sisters. Although they play in the toughest conference in the country, the Buffs have the tools to crack the 20-win mark and improve upon last year's success.

When Kelsey English first joined the Colorado volleyball team, in the fall of 2011, the Buffaloes were coming off a 6-20 season.

Then in her freshman season the Buffs went 6-24 and won just one of their 22 Pac-12 games.

Now that she's a senior, English is feeling pretty good about where the Buffs stand.


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"I can remember starting my freshman year, my biggest goal was for CU to become a threat to other teams and now I think we are," she said. "People aren't going to overlook us as much this year, so it's going to be fun, I think, and a little more competitive."

CU opens the season today against Northwestern in the Northern Illinois Invitational in DeKalb, Illinois. After going 18-14 — its first winning season since 2006 — last year and reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Buffs are hoping Friday is the start of another successful season.

The Buffs aren't looking to merely duplicate last year, however. They believe they can be even better. This weekend will give head coach Liz Kritza her first opportunity to see if the Buffs can be better.

"From the training standpoint and preparation and being able to set goals and decide what's important to us as a group of competitive athletes and coaches, we have that," Kritza said. "I'm pleased with where we are.

"But, you don't know until you start playing. Really, we don't know how great we can be yet. That won't be proven until we get deeper into the season."

What the Buffs do know at this point is that they are much more competitive in their own gym. For the past few weeks, they've spent countless hours battling each other, and those battles are harder than they've been in English's previous seasons at CU.

"It's a lot tougher," English said. "The coaches are putting a lot more pressure on us and not letting the stupid plays slide anymore. They have a lot higher expectations for us. That's good that they hold us to a higher standard."

With confidence gained from last year and a higher standard going into this year, the Buffs head to DeKalb looking for a few wins and trying to find the combinations of players that will help them collect more wins throughout the season.

"We're positioning ourselves to have a really good draw in the postseason," Kritza said. "The most important thing is that our team is continuing to progress and get better and understand what we're good at, what we have to improve at. I think we can do that and still come home with the wins that we need to start off our season correctly."

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.