By: Casey Sanders
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The University of Colorado volleyball team received a big boost this year when outside hitter Amber Sutherland returned to court for her senior season after redshirting in 2007.
This time last year, Sutherland could only cheer on her teammates from the sideline and watch them struggle to a 6-22 record. She was recovering from shoulder surgery in the offseason to repair the labrum and rotator cuff.
“Mentally and physically it was the hardest thing that I have done,” Sutherland said. “Seeing my team struggle was not a great thing. It was really tough knowing that you can’t do much to help your team.”
During her junior season in 2006, Sutherland led the team with 456 kills and was named to the honorable mention All Big 12 team for the first time in her career. She also helped the Buffs beat No. 1 ranked Nebraska - the Cornhuskers’ only loss in their national championship season.
The Buffs struggled to close out matches on more than one occassion last season. They were 0-10 when the match went to five games. CU had a 2-0 lead in five of those 10 defeats.
“There are a lot of ups and downs in a season like last year,” Sutherland said. “I think that we need to change our team chemistry and become more together as a team; so when something bad does happen, then we can step up and change it around.”
This season the Buffs have already equaled their win total from last year at 6-3, and look poised to make a run through the Big 12 to another NCAA Tournament berth.
“We can be a pretty good,” said Colorado head coach Pi’i Aiu said. “We could get right back where we were near the Top 25 if we can remain healthy.”
Sutherland, who is still not 100 percent, has had a big role in turning this season around. She is currently second on the team in digs with 72 and third in kills with 58. But, she also provides leadership that was missing last year.
“I think that Amber has been an incredible role model and leader on this team,” senior middle blocker Lauren Schaefer said. “She brings a strong leadership figure to this team, and that is something that we lacked. I am so happy to have her back on the court this year.”
After a full season of rehab and patience, Sutherland has rededicated herself to the game. She wants her final collegiate season to be a success.
“I love this game and my coaches, and I did not want that (the injury) to be the way I went out,” said Sutherland. “And with all the positive feedback I received, it made me want to get back out there and play this game.”