After navigating through the most brutal portion of the schedule, the University of Colorado volleyball team needed a match that served as a reminder that this year's group indeed is the finest Buffaloes product in several seasons.
Oregon State came to town at the perfect time.
After five consecutive losses against teams that were either ranked or receiving votes, CU was more than happy to welcome the Beavers to the Coors Events Center on Friday night. The Beavers were winless in Pac-12 play, and the Buffs made sure to keep that statistic intact with a 28-26, 25-21, 25-20 sweep.
"I was really happy to see our team come back and take that first set," CU coach Liz Kritza said. "We've been having some ups and downs. We had been on a really strong roll there during the season, but every team has some challenges."
For a Buffs (16-11, 8-9) squad that possesses the firm goal of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, notching its first win since Nov. 1 at Washington State was a good start.
"I think we're all on the highway to that level right now," CU middle blocker Nikki Lindow said. "We have that mindset and that's the goal."
Lindow became the fourth ever CU player to reach 400 career blocks, as the former Centaurus athlete joined Meghan Barkman (565), Alison Koepke (441) and Lisa Soulliere (412). In addition, setter Nicole Edelman notched 39 assists to become the seventh Buffs player ever to crack the 2,000 plateau.
The Buffs also got 13 kills from Alexis Austin and 10 from Taylor Simpson, but they weren't quite ready to call themselves fully recovered from their struggles.
"We made it kind of hard for ourselves and we made it a little scary," Lindow said. "I'm not yet totally satisfied with that game to be honest, because I think we should have put more pressure on them. In the first game, at least."
The Buffs needed a comeback in the opening game, as Oregon State (9-19, 0-17) appeared ready to atone for a 3-0 Colorado sweep in Corvallis, Ore. on Oct. 20.
Two key kills by Austin kept the Buffs afloat, and behind some gritty serving from Kelsey English, they prevented the visitors from taking a 1-0 lead.
"When we get in those tight junctures during games, it's one of my jobs to keep them balanced out and remind them everybody still has an opportunity to score," Austin said.
The Buffs will have to close the regular season strong to maintain their tournament hopes. They have home matches remaining against Oregon and Utah before closing on the road at No. 8 Southern Cal.
"The caveat for all the tournament talk is to not get ahead of yourself," Kritza said. "Tonight, the only thing we could do about getting that goal was to beat Oregon State. The only thing we can do next is beat Oregon. ... We still have some work to do to make sure we're one of the Pac-12 teams included in that 64-team field."
Like her players, Kritza knew it wasn't the Buffs' sharpest performance. She asked them in one huddle whether they believed they were playing sharp, and one responded "sharp-ish." While they were able to get away with it this time, they'll have to be closer peak form Sunday against an Oregon team that "brings a little more heat."
The Buffs are known to bring the heat at home, where they improved to 6-2 in conference play.
"We love this place," Lindow said. "We're Warriors for this place."
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