The Colorado Buffaloes have talked at length amongst themselves about just how to stop the backward momentum of a four-game losing streak.
On Sunday, the Buffs decided they had done enough talking. Instead, their play spoke volumes.
In what essentially was a must-win situation for the CU volleyball team and its dimming NCAA Tournament hopes, the Buffs came up with one of their most complete performances since Pac-12 Conference play began, ending the losing streak with a three-set sweep of Cal at the Coors Events Center.
In addition to stopping the four-game slide, the Buffs (13-11, 5-9 Pac-12) posted their first victorious sweep in league play this season. The win also avenged one of their more disappointing losses of the season when they dropped a four-set decision at Cal on Oct. 9.
"We're tired of losing, honestly, and we came out today and we really wanted to win this game," CU junior Gabby Simpson said. "I think it showed. We've had a bunch of talks, and now it's a matter of us doing it. We know we're capable of doing it, so all of us just have to be on the same page and have the same mentality."
Earlier in the week, head coach Jesse Mahoney said the Buffs likely will need five wins in their final eight contests to feel confident about returning to the NCAA Tournament after last year's near-miss. After splitting matches with Stanford and Cal, that figure now becomes four wins in the final six games. Reaching that total will require wins on the road as well as wins against ranked foes — areas in which the Buffs have been inconsistent at best.
Four of the final six opponents currently are ranked, a stretch that begins Thursday at No. 20 Oregon. CU plays four of the final six on the road while sporting just a 1-5 record away from home in league play, though the lone victory was an impressive win at then-No. 13 Washington State.
"We've been on the wrong side of a couple results that we felt we played really well. We just have to get on the right side of those down the stretch," Mahoney said. "If you look at the Pac-12 this season, there's no one who's invincible at all. We can play at anyone's level and we've shown that throughout the season."
The Buffs were never seriously threatened Sunday, breaking open the first set with a 5-0 run and never trailing the rest of the way. Alexa Smith paced the offense with 12 kills while junior Stephanie Shadley added 10 kills and 11 digs.
Simpson once again turned in a solid all-around effort with 21 assists, 11 digs, and six kills. Sophomore Naghede Abu led the defense with a match-best five blocks.
"We need wins. It doesn't matter who we're playing. We had a couple that were must-wins for us, and this was one of them," Mahoney said. "I thought that start to finish we were focused and on-point. We stuck to the defensive game plan and put ourselves in a position to be successful. It was fun to watch."
Colorado 3, Cal 0
At Coors Events CenterCal (9-15, 3-11) 15 19 19
Kills — Cal: Alftin 11, Haynes 7, Jordan 7; CU: Smith 12, Shadley 10, Abu 7, Hayes 7.
Blocks — Cal: Jordan 3, Haynes 2; CU: Abu 5, G. Simpson 2, Hayes 2.
Assists — Cal: Jensen 29; CU: G. Simpson 21, McKibben 17.
Aces — Cal: None: CU: Carta-Samuels 2, Smith 1, McKibben 1.
Digs — Cal: Kerr 14, Alftin 11; CU: C. Simpson 15, G. Simpson 11, Shadley 11.