Lexi Hadrych could have walked away from college volleyball content with the success of the 2022 season.
After transferring to Colorado from UCLA, Hadrych played a key role in the Buffaloes’ first march to the NCAA Tournament since 2018. Along the way, Hadrych earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors.
Yet among her five collegiate seasons, Hadrych had one redshirt year and also played through the Pac-12’s conference-only schedule of the COVID 2020 season, which was played in early 2021. With an extra year of eligibility available from that 2020 season, combined with her desire to complete a Masters degree, Hadrych always planned to return for a second and final season with the Buffs, and her sixth collegiate season overall.
That season gets underway on Friday night, as the Buffs begin the 2023 campaign with a rare matchup against UNLV at the CU Events Center.
“I think right away we’ll be tested,” Hadrych said. “We have a great (nonconference) schedule. Every team that we’re playing, you know that they’ve done well in the past.”
The Buffs certainly won’t get a chance to ease into the season, as the UNLV opener is the start of three matches in three days in the Buffs Invitational.
The Rebels won the Mountain West Conference regular season crown a year ago before losing to Washington State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. CU also lost in the first round, against Rice.
“UNLV might turn out to be the best team we play in (nonconference),” said head coach Jesse Mahoney, who is beginning his eighth season at CU. “That’s a pretty good team to start with. I like our (nonconference) schedule. It’s a great RPI schedule. It’s better than probably our last two years to be honest, and we get to play at home a lot.”
Hadrych is part of a returning core that helped lead that NCAA Tournament run, a group that also includes middle blocker Alexia Kuehl, outside hitter Maya Tabron and setter Taylor Simpson. Surrounding them is a total of 10 newcomers — six true freshmen, three second-year players who redshirted last season (Rian Finley, Kendall Meller, Emma DeSensi), and North Carolina transfer Skyy Howard.
Howard, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker, should help offset the graduation of Meegan Hart, a first team All-Pac-12 selection last year. With three contests in three days to start the season, Mahoney said he expects to get a good look at different lineup combinations throughout the opening weekend.
“I think I know how we’re going to start on Friday. I’m not sure that’s how we’re going to finish that match,” Mahoney said. “And I’m not sure that’s how we’re going to look on Saturday or Sunday. There’s a couple positions where there’s some pretty decent separation. And then there’s a couple positions where there isn’t.
“What’s exciting is we have a lot of talent, a lot of athletes. I think we’ll settle on a lineup and rotation and roles. But I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”
UNLV Rebels at CU Buffs women’s volleyball
GAME TIME: Friday, 7 p.m., CU Events Center
RECORDS (2022): UNLV 26-5, 17-1 Mountain West Conference; Colorado 20-11, 12-8 Pac-12.
KEY PLAYERS (2022 stats): UNLV — OH Isabel Martin, R-Sr. (3.88 kills per set, 2.42 digs per set); OH Gabrielle Arretche-Ramos, Sr. (3.60 kills per set); RS Chloe Thomas, Jr. (2.03 kills per set); MB Jordyn Freeman, R-Sr. (0.95 blocks per set, 1.59 kills per set). Colorado — OH Lexi Hadrych, Gr. (3.25 kills per set); OH Maya Tabron, Sr. (3.18 kills per set, 2.24 digs per set); MB Alexia Kuehl, R-Jr. (1.11 blocks per set, 1.66 kills per set); S Taylor Simpson, Jr. (7.87 assists per set; 1.93 digs per set).
NOTES: CU continues the Buffs Invitational on Saturday against Campbell (6 p.m.) and Sunday against North Texas (noon). … Going into his eighth season, head coach Jesse Mahoney owns a 112-94 mark at CU. … The Buffs went 13-3 at home last year. CU has won 13 consecutive nonconference home games. … UNLV’s Isabel Martin was the Player of the Year in the Mountain West Conference last season. .. The Buffs and UNLV have meet just once, with CU winning 3-0 in Las Vegas on Aug. 26, 2011. … Mahoney said redshirt freshman Rian Finley has been pushing returning starter Taylor Simpson for time at setter. “It’s Taylor’s spot right now,” Mahoney said. “But I could see us going into a double-sub situation if we needed to, if we’re struggling in a rotation. Rian’s been doing a nice job.” … The non-CU games taking place this weekend at the Buffs Invitational — Campbell vs. North Texas (Friday, 4 p.m.); UNLV vs. North Texas (Saturday, 3 p.m.); Campbell vs. UNLV (Sunday, 10 a.m.)