Colorado vs. Northwestern State
WHEN: Friday, 3:30 p.m. MT, Norman, Okla.
BROADCAST: None. Live stats available at SoonerSports.com.
NOTABLE: The Buffs face Seton Hall at 9 a.m. Saturday and the host Sooners at 6 p.m...CU opens at home next week with its annual Omni Invitational, facing Wake Forest and Rice on Sept. 2 and Abilene Christian on Sept. 3...Dating back to their time in the Big 12 Conference, CU has lost five consecutive games at Oklahoma.
The home opener for the Colorado volleyball team remains more than a week away, yet Buffaloes fans already know they are in store for a glut of new faces on the floor.
The season opener, however, is on deck. And when the Buffs begin the 2017 season Friday night against Northwestern State at the Oklahoma Invitational, second-year coach Jesse Mahoney will be able to rely on a familiar and formidable wall in the middle of his defense.
Still-improving junior Naghede Abu was among the league's best middle blockers last season, and once again being paired alongside senior Anna Pfefferle (91 career starts) gives Mahoney a reliable defensive presence as his club works in new starters at setter and libero into the mix.
"Having players that essentially have started since they were freshmen, who happen to be a junior and a senior, really anchors what we're trying to do on the defensive side of the ball," Mahoney said. "They're both much better blockers I think now than they were a year ago, and they were good a year ago. Defensively, I think they really anchor what we're trying to do. I think they're in a place now where they can coach themselves through the defensive side of the ball.
"I think we need to get better offensively in really all positions, but we're looking to try and find ways to score a little better in the middle. So we can lean on our middle attackers a little bit more. As we get through these first couple weeks I think we'll be in a much better rhythm as far as that goes."
Abu, who didn't start playing volleyball until her junior year of high school, has been a force for the Buffs since she arrived, landing on the honorable mention list of the Pac-12 All-Freshman team in 2015 when her 142 blocks set a Colorado freshman record. That also was the sixth-best overall single-season mark in CU history, and she ranked eighth in the Pac-12 with 1.20 blocks per set.
Abu was even better last year, as her 153 blocks was the best total by a CU player in the rally-scoring era (since 2001). She also tied a program single-game record with 15 blocks against Portland State, the second-best mark by a Pac-12 player in the entire 2016 season. Abu also took huge steps forward offensively in Mahoney's system, recording 205 kills after posting 139 as a freshman.
"We're both upper classmen at this point, and so there's a certain standard that we hold ourselves to. Which is definitely higher than the standard I held myself to last year," Abu said. "Yes, there is an added responsibility. But I don't necessarily feel pressure. We've been here long enough to understand what we're going to do and be able to handle it."
Pfefferle has been a consistent contributor since her arrival, posting three consecutive seasons with at least 100 blocks. She begins her senior season with 358 blocks, which ranks sixth all-time at CU. If she logs another 100-block season, Pfefferle will jump to second on that list.
"Naghede and I have pretty much been starters since we were freshmen, so there's definitely a bigger weight on our shoulders to be able to be able to anchor the block defensively and score at a high rate offensively," Pfefferle said. "I think if we're able to do that and maintain that position when either of us is on the court, that will definitely help our team."