After falling behind two sets to none to No. 9 Colorado State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, No. 19 Colorado volleyball fought back to force a decisive fifth set, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion, 3-2 (25-22, 25-21, 23-25, 24-26, 16-14).
"I want to point out the strength and perseverance, and how proud I am of my players," said head coach Liz Kritza. "A lot of teams would go down 0-2 against a strong team like CSU and they probably couldn't get themselves back in it. This group of players did and could - we made a match out of it."
The fifth set was tightly contested, much like the third and fourth sets. CSU took the first commanding lead of the final set at 8-6. Colorado rallied, grabbing the next three out of the next four points. Middle Blocker Anna Pfefferle forced a CSU timeout after her service ace tied the set at nine.
CSU grabbed an 11-9 lead, but CU went on a 4-0 run, thanks in large part to strong serving by setter Nicole Edelman. The Rams responded with back-to-back kills from pin hitters Marlee Reynolds and Adrianna Culbert, tying the set at 13. Out of a Colorado timeout, Foss served the ball into the net, giving Colorado match point.
CSU's attack on CU's match point was nearly blocked by Rachel Hargis, who had an outstanding match, but Alexandra Poletto's kill found the floor, tying the set at 14. Consecutive Colorado attack errors sent CSU on to the Minneapolis Regional.
Colorado's fight to extend the match to a fifth set looked to be over when Taylor Simpson's swing went long on match point in the fourth set. But referee Dan Appel signaled a touch, and instead of a CSU celebration, Taylor Simpson notched one of her career-high 32 kills. The senior from Colorado Springs saved her best performance as a Buff for last, hitting .426 on 61 swings.
Alexis Austin drove home a kill to give Colorado set point at 25-24. Taylor Simpson sent the match to five with an outstanding kill from the back row.
"They're winners," Kritza said of her team. "They have guts, they have steal in their spine. They simply refuse to just let it go.
The Buffs had a difficult slowing down Colorado State's 10th-ranked offense in the first two sets. The Rams were rarely out of system, affording Mountain West Setter of the Year Deedra Foss the opportunity to comfortably run her offense. CSU hit .387 on their way to a 25-22 set one victory, and .500 in a 25-21 second set win.
Colorado adjusted to the CSU attack by inserting Hargis into the rotation for blocking purposes. Hargis, who spent the last four years as a center on the CU women's basketball team, finished with career-highs in kills (6) and blocks (4). The Buffs let a 14-5 set three lead evaporate, as CSU came back to tie at 23. Austin came through with two clutch kills to send Colorado to a fourth set.
Austin registered 12 kills on the night. Libero Cierra Simpson led Colorado's floor defense with 17 digs. Her sisters Taylor Simpson and Gabby Simpson each picked up 11 digs.
"Tonight truly proved how much heart that this team has," said Cierra Simpson. "Almost everybody on the team has been battling an injury at some point, or is currently injured. I think going down 0-2, we could have just rolled over and died, but we didn't. We fought back, and we came back. We almost had (the fifth set), it didn't quite go in our favor, but I think from that we can take the heart that we played with, and move into next season."