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Arizona beach volleyball storms back to defeat Cal in opening round of Pac-12 Championships

The Wildcats move to the winners bracket and will take on top-seeded USC on Thursday

Annie Kost (14) and Hope Shannon (22) play for the deciding point in the opening round as their Arizona teammates cheer them on.
Photo by Mike Christy, courtesy of Arizona Athletics

In beach volleyball, the scoreboard can be deceptive. The Pac-12 Championship opening-round dual between Arizona and California was a case in point. The Wildcats snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat with a 3-2 win built on the comeback of Annie Kost and Hope Shannon.

Arizona was the first to score a point for its side when Alanna Rennie and Alex Parkhurst wrapped things up on court one over Cal’s Maya Gessner and Ana Costa. After a close first set, Rennie and Parkhurst slammed the door shut on the first victory with a 21-12 second set.

The Wildcats quickly took the 2-0 lead when Abby Russell and Dana Parker annihilated their opponents 21-4 in the second set after a close 21-19 first set. It looked like false hope, though.

The Golden Bears held strong leads on the other three courts. The pairs on court two and court three backed that up. Ainsley Radell and Ashley Delgado handled Arizona’s Sarah Blacker and Maja Kaiser 21-13, 21-16. Shortly afterward, Lexi McKeown and Ella Dreibholz dismissed Dilara Gedikoglu and Jasmine Safar 21-15, 21-11.

On the last court, playing just a few yards west of Campell Avenue, Kost and Shannon had lost the first set 21-16. The second set was the start of the drama. The Wildcats fell behind once again, facing two match points. They refused to go away, battling back to take the set 22-20 and extend the match.

With competition complete on every other court, both teams and their fans gathered around court five. The pairs battled back and forth. Suddenly it ended unceremoniously. Cal was called for the blocking error. Cal’s coaches argued, but it was to no avail. Arizona walked away with the 3-2 victory on the pair’s 16-21, 22-20, 16-14 win.

Arizona will face No. 1 seed USC on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. MST/PDT. The Women of Troy, who are ranked No. 1 in the AVCA poll, are going for their second straight national championship and fourth overall this year.

The Wildcats are trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since its inaugural season in 2016. The tournament has been expanded from eight teams to 16 teams for the first time this year.