Even as she was putting together a freshman season that in many ways was unprecedented for a University of Colorado volleyball player, Naghede Abu often struggled with her confidence.

Of course, that's not an uncommon affliction for any freshman. Yet in Abu's case her confidence took another hit immediately after the season when head coach Liz Kritza was dismissed after seven seasons.

While new coach Jesse Mahoney arrived in his hometown of Boulder with a fresh perspective and a wealth of new ideas, Abu was understandably concerned with just how much the knew regime would covet her skills.

With the Buffaloes less than a week away from Mahoney's official debut as CU's leader, that question has been answered. Mahoney and the Buffs are going to lean on the often dominant 6-foot-4 middle blocker. A lot.

"I'm a lot more confident and I'm more vocal on the court," Abu said. "It's easier to know what's coming having been through it before.

"(The coaching change) was extremely tough. I struggled with confidence issues last year too, and I wasn't sure if he wanted me or didn't want me. But we talked it out and as long as I continue to work hard I know good things will happen."

Abu was the only rookie to make a significant impact for the Buffs last year, recording a total of 142 blocks that ranked eighth in the league and set a CU record for freshmen. Abu became the first CU player to win the Pac-12 Conference's Freshman Player of the Week and ultimately earned a spot on the league's all-rookie team.


Once that standout season was complete, Mahoney quickly reassured Abu he wanted to see her continue to develop her game with the Buffs.

"Naghede has come a long way since we started in the spring," Mahoney said. "She's a naturally gifted blocker, and now that she's seeing the game better I believe she's going to be a dominant blocker. We're working on her offensive game. We need to work on her court vision and placement, but we're really excited for her development. She's only going to get better and she's going to be a focal point for us."

Abu could be described as a classic late-bloomer, having played competitive volleyball only since her junior year in high school. That means there is a reasonable chance the normal freshman-to-sophomore learning curve could be accelerated for Abu in 2016.

"I definitely want us to finish in the top three of the Pac-12," Abu said. "I think that definitely is do-able. We have a huge team this year and everyone is so good. We have so much potential. For me personally, I just want to be more consistent. Last year was a struggle for me to be consistent game to game."

Simpson sits out

Junior Gabby Simpson did not participate in Saturday's annual Black and Gold intra-squad scrimmage due to an undisclosed injury, and Mahoney termed her status as questionable for the three-match, season-opening trip next weekend at the Portland State Invitational.

Simpson ranked 10th in the Pac-12 Conference in kills per set last year and earned honorable mention all-league honors. Expected to be CU's primary setter this season, Simpson was the only Buffs player named to the Pac-12's preseason all-conference team.

"We're not sure at this point whether she'll be available," Mahoney said. "It's not a long-term issue, so we expect to have her back soon."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07