It had been eight years since the Colorado Buffaloes volleyball team had a chance to take on its rivals from Colorado State on CU's home floor.
The Buffs made sure the wait was worth it.
No. 18 CU capped a clean sweep of the Omni Hotels Invitational by topping the Rams in four sets Saturday night at the Coors Events Center. Though the Rams eliminated CU from the 2014 NCAA tournament, the showdown marked the first time the rivals had met in the regular season since 2010, and it was the first matchup in Boulder since 2008.
The victory ended a seven-game CU losing streak against the Rams dating back to 2002, and it also marked just the second victory for the Buffs in their past 14 matches against CSU. For first-year CU coach Jesse Mahoney, a former assistant at CSU under coach Tom Hilbert, it was a fulfilling end to nonconference play ahead of Wednesday's Pac-12 Conference opener at home against Utah.
"I like to win every match regardless who is on the other side," Mahoney said. "It's gratifying to see these players get rewarded for working as hard as they have been for the past month and a half or so, and beating a really, really good team. That's the best blocking team I think we've seen this season.
"I spent seven years up there so I have a lot of affinity for that program and the people in it and coach (Tom) Hilbert, who is a great coach and is going to do really great things with that team once they get a little bit older. This season they're playing a lot of young kids."
The Buffs led throughout the first two sets, winning 25-22 and 25-20, before CSU denied CU its fourth straight sweep by taking Set 3 25-23. CU used runs of 6-1 and 5-1, the latter featuring four points from sophomore Naghede Abu, to pull away from the Rams with a win-clinching 25-21 decision in Set 4.
"I think in that third set we had a mental lapse here and there and that affected us at the end of the game because we were playing catch-up," Alexa Smith said. "Once we got into that fourth game we said we're not going to five and we're going to win it now. So that was the mindset going into that."
Smith topped 20 kills for the second time this season with 21 and also led three Buffs on the Omni Invitational all-tournament team by earning MVP honors. Stephanie Shadley posted 13 kills and a match-best 13 digs for the Buffs.
Abu and senior Cierra Simpson also earned all-tourney honors for CU. The Buffs will take a four-game win streak into Wednesday's league opener against Utah.
"This part of our season is over," Mahoney said. "(In nonconference) I think we really tested ourselves playing a lot of really, really high level opponents and playing some high-level volleyball. The Pac-12 is going to have nine or 10 teams that are as good or better than the last several we faced. We need to get healthy, we need to get focused, and there's always things we need to clean up."
CU (8-2) opened Saturday with a sweep of New Orleans, getting six kills and a match-best 13 digs from freshman Justine Spann.
Colorado 3, Colorado State 1
At Coors Events CenterColorado State (6-5) 22 20 25 21
Colorado (8-2) 25 25 23 25
Kills — CSU: Hillyer 12, Poletto 11, Cizmic 11; CU: Smith 21, Shadley 13, Hayes 10.
Blocks — CSU: Hillyer 9, Poletto 5, Oleksak 5; CU: Abu 5, Hayes 4.
Assists — CSU: Oleksak 41; CU: G. Simpson 27, McKibben 26.
Aces — CSU: Denny 1, Cizmic 1; CU: Shadley 2, Pfefferle 2, McKibben 2.
Digs — CSU: Denny 12, Thornlow 10; CU: Shadley 13, Smith 10, C. Simpson 10.
Colorado 3, New Orleans 0
At Coors Events CenterNew Orleans (3-9) 18 13 12
Kills — New Orleans: Dunn 10, Vega 7; CU: Smith 6, G. Simpson 6, Pfefferle 5, Abu 5.
Blocks — New Orleans: Vega 3, Bryant 3; CU: Abu 7, Hayes 4, G. Simpson 4.
Assists — New Orleans: Thomas 21; CU: G. Simpson 17, McKibben 11.
Aces — New Orleans: Yauch 1; CU: C. Simpson 2, Smith 1, Spann 1.
Digs — New Orleans: Uline 12, Dunn 7, Vega 7; CU: Spann 13, C. Simpson 10.