CORVALLIS, Ore. — Naghede Abu is the best blocker the University of Colorado has ever seen, a fact that Oregon State found out the hard way as the senior posted a school record 17 blocks in a five-set victory (24-26, 33-31, 20-25, 25-22, 15-10) in Corvallis, Ore., Sunday afternoon.
"First of all, it was an amazing match all around," coach Jesse Mahoney said. "I thought Oregon State played at a really high level. Naghede was phenominal, especially in sets four and five carrying an offensive load, but getting as many blocks against their outside hitters, I haven't seen a blocking day like that in a long time."
With the win Colorado pulls even in conference play for the first time this season. At 17-12 with a 9-9 record in the Pac-12, CU has taken care of business in the early portion of the four-match must-win section of the schedule and are in a better position to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. With the loss Oregon State falls to 11-19 with a 1-17 record in conference play.
It was a block party for the Buffaloes, posting a season-high 23.5 blocks in the process. Abu was the star with 16 block assists and a solo block, breaking a record she shared with Lisa Soulliere at 15 in a match. The team's 43 block assists was one away from tying the school record.
"Lee Maes is our defensive coordinator and puts our kids in a really good position to succeed," Mahoney said. "I thought our right-front blockers especially, Jenna Ewert and Anyse Smith, did a really nice job, then Naghede closing the block. A lot of really good execution after the start of the match, took us awhile to get there, but by the end of the match we were executing at a very high level."
The next magic number for Abu is one. The senior has been on pace to match Meghan Barkman's school record in blocks with 565 total in her career. With today's performance Abu is just a single block away from tying the record, a mark that will most-likely come on the road against UCLA on Wednesday. The senior has only had a single match where she didn't record a block, coming against Nebraska last season in the Sweet 16.
Colorado had an up-and-down match, but when it mattered most the Buffaloes showed up to put away the Beavers. The fifth set featured nine kills for a .444 hitting percentage, led by Abu and Alexa Smith. Both players had three kills, while Justine Spann added in a pair. The Buffs held Oregon State to just a .043 hitting percentage in the set and under .050 for the final two sets combined.
The other star of the match was Jenna Ewert, who posted a career-high 60 assists while becoming the second setter to record 10 blocks in a match in school history. She is the second player to have a double-double with assists and blocks in CU history, and was just a pair of digs away from becoming the only triple-double recorded without 10 kills. She joins Kaitlyn Burkett in 2007 as the only setter to have double-digit blocks, a match that still holds the most blocks in school history at 26.
"Obviously we want Brynna back healthy and on the floor for us because she makes us better. That being said, Jenna really has done a great job and blossomed these last several weeks running the 5-1 for the first time. What I like is that she has gotten better every time out. Every match she continues to become a better setter, better blocker, better leader, it is really fun to see. I thought today she did a really nice job rallying us when we were down. Her two best sets were in sets four and five, I thought she was excellent."
After posting just a pair of kills in the first set, Alexa Smith went on a tear in the second set with eight of her match-high 22 kills. The senior hit .231 and recorded a double-double with 13 digs. She also had four blocks.
"It's tough to have a quiet 22, but Alexa almost felt like she had a quiet 22. A lot of those came when we needed them in sets four and five. She is so steady, you can see she is super low error. That's what makes her such an efficient player. She is the type of kid that can take a volume of swings and be better at the end of the night than she was at the beginning. She is definitely a reason we are winning these matches."
Also for the Buffs offensively, Anyse Smith posted 16 kills, eight of which came in the first set. Abu was second on the team with a dozen kills, while Spann added 10 in a double-double performance with 18 digs.
Anything that could make it through the Colorado block was cleaned up by libero Rachel Whipple's 24 digs. She along with the two outside hitters Spann and Smith combined for 71 percent of the team's digs.
"We held our fate in our hands going into this weekend, these two wins definitely put us in a better position. We are still on the bubble, so are going to go out on the assumption we need to win the next two matches to get in and take it from there. Both the teams we are playing this week are competing for their tournament lives as well, it is going to be a high-level week."
Colorado returns home for less than 48 hours before heading out to Los Angeles to take on UCLA Wednesday at 2 p.m. The Buffaloes conclude the regular season at Utah Friday at noon.