When Naghede Abu arrived at the University of Colorado a little more than two years ago, she admittedly remained a relative newcomer to volleyball.
Abu was born in Nigeria and her family didn't move to America until the was 14, eventually settling in Riverside, Calif. She didn't take up competitive volleyball until she was a junior in high school. Yet Abu was such a natural, less than two years later she immediately was inserted into the rotation in a Pac-12 Conference program.
Since then, Abu has grown up in the middle of CU's defense alongside Anna Pfefferle, a senior whose career has been extended by the Buffs' first appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 20 years. Together Abu, a junior, and Pfefferle provide a solid backbone to a CU defense that will be in the spotlight against a versatile Nebraska attack in the teams' showdown Friday afternoon in Kentucky.
"Anna is great, obviously. She's been a huge help, helping me transition to the college game and just helping me grow my volleyball IQ over the past three years. I was very raw and I still am in many aspects. But I think just having her there, she's a very good support system and always helping me figure where I want wrong or what I did right."
Pfefferle (470 career blocks) and Abu (448 career blocks) rank second and third, respectively, among CU's career leaders.
Abu's 153 blocks this year going into Friday's contest matches her total last year, a mark that ranks as the program's fourth-best total all-time. Abu was named the Most Outstanding Player at last week's Waco Sub-Regional, posting 10 blocks and 16 kills in the Buffs' two three-set victories.
Friday's match will be the 57th all-time meeting between the Buffs and Nebraska, programs that formerly were league rivals in the Big 8 and then the Big 12. CU also has played Iowa State 57 times, but no opponent has lined up more frequently against the Buffaloes.
Still, the teams' last meeting was in 2010, the Buffs' final year in the Big 12. Like the Buffs, Nebraska found a new home in 2011, moving to the Big Ten. CU head coach Jesse Mahoney, a native of Boulder, remembers some of those old showdowns, but his team realizes history has little bearing on Friday's showdown.
"I'm not sure they know that there was a Big 8, much less a Big 12," Mahoney said. "There obviously is a long history with Colorado and Nebraska. I remember watching some of those matches in the 90s, and I know some great matches in the 2000s since they left. We're excited to renew the rivalry."
CU assistant coach Lee Maes was an assistant for three seasons under Nebraska coach John Cook from the 2005 through 2007 seasons ... CU outside hitters Alexa Smith (475 kills) and Frankie Shebby (401) are the fifth combination to reach at least 400 kills in program history ... The 1,388 assists recorded by freshman setter Brynna DeLuzio is the second most in team history in the rally scoring era (since 2001). Only the 1,448 assists by Ashley Nu'u in 2005 ranks higher.