Arizona coach Dave Rubio has preached all season that his team can’t take anyone lightly, especially once conference play started. The depth of the conference was just too much to believe that any win would come easy. That made the recent rash of injuries especially worrisome.
But if there’s one conference opponent Arizona (17-6, 6-5) could afford to face with a few injuries it’s Oregon State (10-13, 0-11). The Beavers haven’t won a match since Sept. 18, when they defeated Seattle University.
The Wildcats showed why in a match where they never trailed. In fact, they didn’t allow their opponent to reach 20 points in any set.
Arizona came out strong, leading wire to wire to take the opening set 25-15. The Wildcats had 19 kills to 11 for the Beavers. Not only was the home team effective, they were also efficient, having only three errors on 39 attempts. Arizona hit .432 compared to Oregon State’s .167 in the first.
Oregon State came out stronger in the second set. The Beavers were able to keep the Wildcats within 3 points until Arizona went up 16-12 on a Katie Smoot kill. The Wildcats handled the set comfortably from then on, going on a 9-4 run to take a two sets to zero lead.
The Beavers weren’t ready to give up. They came out strong early in the third, and played their strongest volleyball throughout the set. OSU had 11 kills in the set against only two errors. Their .214 hitting percentage was the best they had all evening.
Prior to the final set, the only tie in the match came at 1-1 in the second. Oregon State evened the score for a second time serving 9-9 in the third. With a rare chance to take a lead, the Beavers couldn’t put the ball on the floor.
From that point, Arizona grabbed the advantage and ran away with the match. The Wildcats capped the set with a 16-8 run to take the victory.
The Beavers didn’t have a single player with double-digit kills. Lindsey Schell, Maddy Gravley, Maddie Goings, and Haylie Bennett led OSU with six kills each.
On the other side of the net, Arizona was led by two sophomores—Smoot and Paige Whipple. The duo turned in stat lines that were similar to those of Kendra Dahlke, who sat out with a foot injury.
Whipple led the match with 18 kills. Smoot had a career-high 17 kills on 29 attacks, hitting a sparkling .517 for the night. The team as a whole had an extremely efficient match, dominating Oregon State in all aspects of the game.
“Sometimes without [Dahlke] on the court, we lack offense,” Whipple said. “However, tonight we all stepped up. We hit .400, which is great in any PAC-12 match.”
Former Arizona setter Penina Snuka was honored during the halftime break with her name being added to the Ring of Honor in McKale Center. Snuka was a three-time AVCA All-American, as well as the 2016 PAC-12 Setter of the Year. She is second in Arizona volleyball history in assists and digs.
Now, they move on to face Oregon, a team that Rubio described as “sleek” and “fast” earlier this season. While they were able to win a tough five-setter on that trip, they had a healthy Dahlke at the time. They face a new challenge on Sunday.
“Oregon arguably has the best talent and the most talent in the conference—even more than Stanford,” Rubio said. “Stanford has six or seven kids that are super elite, but the depth isn’t there. If they lose Plummer like we lost Kendra, it would be a different team for them. It would be a lot harder than it is. But Oregon has tremendous depth, experience. They’re an older team now.
“We’re going to have to really play well. Offensively, we’re going to have to score without another back row attacker. That’s the thing, without Kendra being back there, being used for that. We didn’t use the back row that often, but when we did it was pretty effective. Without having another person back there, because Katie doesn’t possess the ball-handling skills, the defensive skills to be back there. She certainly has the offensive skills to be back there, but the first priority is to defend, and then offense. So, it puts more pressure on Paige. And Paige, at a young age, I’m not sure...she’s going to have to really step up on Sunday.
“But it should be a great match. We always play well against Oregon. I think they know that.”
Rubio said that they are still uncertain, but he believes Dahlke will return when the Wildcats travel to Utah and Colorado in two weeks.