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Arizona fights injuries in 4-set loss to Washington

Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

A starting volleyball team consists of six offensive players and a libero. On Sunday, Arizona (18-8, 7-7) had three of their starting offensive players and their starting libero out with injuries. Unsurprisingly, it ended with a four-set loss (22-25, 25-23, 25-18, 25-15) to Washington (15-9, 7-7).

Kendra Dahlke sat out her fourth straight match with a foot injury and Liz Shelton continued her absence from Pac-12 play with a concussion. They were joined by two juniors: middle blocker Devyn Cross out with a concussion and libero Makenna Martin nursing a groin injury.

When the two teams met in Tucson, the Huskies swept the Wildcats in a match that coach Dave Rubio put down to lack of effort. This time around, the Wildcats fought, but just wore down as the match progressed.

Hitters Paige Whipple and Katie Smoot returned from their 20+ kills in the upset of Washington State to lead the scoring for Arizona. Whipple had another double-double, finding the floor with 14 kills and accounting for 11 digs. Smoot was second in kills for the Wildcats with eight.

Julia Patterson stepped up to fill some of the gap left by her missing teammates. In addition to having 38 assists, she led the team with 18 digs. The digs were not only a season high, but matched her career high set against New Mexico State last season.

The problem was that Washington had three players with double-digit kills. Freshman outside hitter Claire Hoffman led the match with 21 kills. She received support from Kara Bajema with 12 and Samantha Drechsel with 11.

While Arizona’s sophomore hitters and junior setter had their usual strong games, the Wildcats also relied heavily on freshmen who had seen little action prior to Sunday afternoon. Tacoma native Zyonna Fellows got her first career start in front of friends and family, and made the most of it with four kills and five blocks. Fellow freshman Whittnee Nihipali also saw considerable action.

Match stats were in Washington’s favor in almost every category. The Huskies had 56 kills to 45 for Arizona, and had fewer attack errors. As expected from a team that ranks first in the Pac-12 for service aces, they more than doubled up the Wildcats in aces 7-3. The Huskies also won the blocking battle 13-11.

Arizona didn’t go away quietly, though, despite the personnel issues. In the first set, the Huskies built an 11-5 lead, forcing Rubio to call a timeout. Out of the break, the Wildcats went on a 11-5 run of their own to tie things up at 16-all.

The Wildcats would take their first lead at 17-16, and wouldn’t look back. They did just enough down the stretch to keep their noses in front of the Huskies, winning the set 25-22.

The second set was close until about half-way through. With the score at 13-11 in their favor, Washington went on a run 7-2 run to get to 20 points first. When they reached match point at 24-18, the set looked over.

Arizona wasn’t quite ready. The Wildcats fought back, saving five set points to push it to 24-23. After a Washington timeout, Bajema finally ended it for the Huskies with one of her 12 kills on the day.

The Wildcats started the third set stronger, building a 6-3 lead. They couldn’t hold it.

The Huskies tied things up at 7-7, and it was all downhill for Arizona from there. Washington would build their lead to as much as seven points at 21-14, and maintain the margin for a final score of 25-18.

Up 2-1 and with Arizona starting to physically tire, it didn’t take much for Washington to end the match. The Huskies never trailed in the fourth, building their lead to 10 points at 18-8 and maintaining that for the final margin of 25-15.

The good news for Arizona was passed along by the Pac-12 Network commentators, who reported that Dahlke participated in warm-ups with the team prior to the match. While she wore her leg brace sitting on the bench, that provides some hope that she will return for the trip to the Mountain schools next week.