Buffs Volleyball to Face Tough Competition at DU

The University of Colorado volleyball team (3-1) will travel to south Denver tomorrow night where they will play in the first game of the annual Pioneer Invitational on the University of Denver campus. The Buffs are coming off a season-opening second place finish in the Maine Sea-Sun Invitational last week in Orono, losing only to 11th ranked Penn State in four sets during the second game of the tournament's opening day. Here is your tournament preview.

Colorado will face Central Florida on Friday night (5:00 P.M.), and then both Illinois State (10:00 A.M.) and host DU (7:30 P.M.) to conclude the tournament on Saturday.

The Buffs… Senior middle blocker Monique Gerlach was the only CU player to be named to the Sea-Sun All-Tournament team over the weekend. Gerlach totaled 61 kills and 111 attacks while committing just 19 errors and maintaining a team-high 31% serve accuracy throughout the tournament. In the bigger picture, Gerlach ranks in the top ten in 12 career CU statistical categories, and is the program's all-time leader in attack percentage (.333).

Senior outside hitter Nicole Carr is also coming off of a solid tournament, where she finished second on the team behind Gerlach in both kills (58) and digs (58). Carr also managed the most attacks of any CU player on the weekend (126) and posted a .262 serve percentage.

Other players to watch for during the two-day event include 6-0 freshman Austin Zimmerman, who led CU in blocks (10) and also contributed 15 kills for the Buffs in their three wins.

Additionally, watch for sophomore setter Kelly Masumiya, who had three aces and three digs in six games in Orono, to come off the bench and sure up the Buffs' attack against what will be their most difficult extended competition they've faced early in this season.

Buffalo fans will also be getting their first look at freshman Ashley Nu'u, who was selected the Big 12 preseason Freshman of the Year in a coaches poll. Nu'u, a native of Aurora, led Smoky Hill High School to back-to-back 5A state titles in each of the past two seasons, and has already contributed to CU's efforts early this season. Ashley played in only seven of the 13 games over the weekend, but will still enter Friday's game ranked third on the team in both assists (67), and blocks (7).

Colorado is looking to use the weekend's tournament to continue its strong early season momentum and prove itself to anyone who may have thought that their opening competition was a little soft. The Buffs will enter headfirst into a rigorous Big 12 schedule, which boasts three nationally ranked opponents; Nebraska (5th), Kansas State (14th), and Missouri (tied for 18th), on Sep. 17 when they host the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Colorado opened the season projected to finish seventh in a Big 12 preseason coaches poll.

Central Florida… The Denver invitational will be the Golden Knight's first showing in defense of their second consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference title. CFU won the honor following a 22-13 regular season in 2002, one that eventually culminated with their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance to coincide with their in-conference domination. Central Florida features five returning starters including Jenny Frank, who was awarded All-Conference honors last year.

Illinois State … State comes to the mile high city with a 1-2 mark on the early season after beginning the year by hosting its own tournament last week. ISU opened with impressive showings against both Nebraska and Illinois, but managed to defeat only Clemson. The Redbird attack features sophomore outside hitter Lara Doornbos, who leads the team with a notable 5.17 kills per game. Doornbos was named to the All-Tournament team last week along with junior setter Kelly Rikli, who averaged better than 12 assists and 2.5 digs per game.

DU… The Pioneers may be the most surprising team in this year's event following their first place finish at the Saluki Invitational in Carbondale, Ill. last week. Denver defeated Iowa in a grueling five game set to open the tournament, and then cruised through remaining matches over Southern Illinois and Austin-Peay en route to the title. Led by senior blocker Andrea Baron, DU as a team posted 36 assisted rejections, 12 of which Baron herself was responsible for. The Pioneers as a whole have averaged better than three blocks per game and hit .261 from the line in ‘03, vaulting the squad to its best start since 1997.

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