Jesse Mahoney is a Boulder native and a 1995 graduate of Colorado. Up until he became CU’s head volleyball coach, Buffaloes athletics and the Big 12 Conference likely were synonymous for Mahoney.
Like the rest of the CU athletic department, there was an element of change hovering within the Events Center on Tuesday as the Buffs opened preseason practice ahead of Mahoney’s eighth season at CU. Following the upcoming season, which opens on Aug. 25 at home against UNLV, the Buffs will move from one of the top volleyball conferences in the nation (the Pac-12) into one of the other top volleyball conferences in the nation in the Big 12.
“It’s been a crazy week and to watch what’s happening to the Pac-12 is obviously unfortunate,” Mahoney said. “We had a great run in the Pac-12 and I’ve really enjoyed the experience there. But I’m excited to move into the Big 12. It’s obviously another power conference. Last year it was the number one RPI conference. They had the national champion out of it and there’s great teams coming in along with great teams from the Pac-12. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be an exciting conference for us.”
Perhaps more than any other team sport at CU, the shift in leagues appears to be a wash competitively for women’s volleyball.
The Big 12 finished the 2022 season as the top volleyball RPI conference in the nation, a mark powered largely by national champion Texas, which is leaving the Big 12 after this season for the SEC. However, that departure will be offset by the addition not only of CU, which reached the NCAA Tournament last season and has earned three bids in the past six seasons, but with Big 12 newcomers BYU, Central Florida and Houston. BYU reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, while Central Florida (No. 17 RPI) and Houston (No. 18 RPI, Sweet 16) were the top teams in the American Athletic Conference.
The Big 12 sent five of its nine teams into the tournament (Oklahoma State doesn’t have a volleyball program). The Pac-12 sent six teams into the tournament, but four of those teams — CU, plus Big Ten-bound Oregon, Washington and USC — will be gone after this season.
Much like CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle, Mahoney said the conference shift likely will put a greater recruiting focus on Texas for his program.
“It probably will change a little bit of our recruiting dynamic, but hopefully that will be a positive for us, too,” Mahoney said. “Since I’ve been here it’s been a little bit of a struggle to pull out of Texas maybe the way we’d like to. I think this will give us a little bit more of a foothold in places like Houston, in places like Dallas. In the Big 12 we’ll have a little bit of a different brand. I think we’ll still be a pretty natural fit for a lot of recruits out of California.
“You always have the kid who’s a California kid but wants to get away a little bit, but enjoys coming home a couple times a year. I think we’re going to see that the other way, the Texas kid wants to get away a little but will have an opportunity to go home and play.”
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