The Arizona volleyball team is headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.
The Wildcats upset No. 9 overall seed Michigan State in five sets in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan.
The Spartans won the first set handily 25-17, but the Wildcats responded, winning three of the last four sets en route to the victory.
“I’m really proud of how we played. It was an unbelievable match, really on both sides,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said after the game. “Certainly Michigan State gave everything we could handle, especially after the first set. We were just getting completely annihilated and as you saw when the score was 2-0 in game two, I called timeout. Most coaches don’t do that, but [we] certainly responded well.”
All-Pac-12 player Kalei Mau led the Wildcats with 23 kills, while Kendra Dahlke had 22 kills and a team-high 16 digs.
Pac-12 Setter of the Year Penina Snuka had 57 assists and 15 digs.
“I don’t even have words for it,” senior Laura Larson said of reaching the Sweet 16. “That’s what the seniors and I have worked for these last four years.”
Larson had 11 digs and three aces in the victory.
“I have no words, it means so much,” she said of the win.
Up 2-1, the Wildcats fell behind in the fourth set 13-9, but stormed back to take a 15-14 lead. The Spartans countered with a 3-0 run to re-take a 17-15 lead, but then Arizona tied it at 17.
The Wildcats eventually took a 24-23 advantage, needing one final point to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16, but the Spartans came back to win the set 26-24, setting up a decisive fifth set.
Arizona got off to a quick 6-1 start in the final set, but Michigan State cut the deficit to 10-8, forcing the Wildcats to take a timeout.
After the timeout, the Wildcats finished on a 5-2 run to cap off the victory and clinch their eighth Sweet 16 appearance in program history — and the first in over a decade.
“I’m really proud how we finished this match to go onto the Round of 16,” Rubio said. “It’s been a while for us.”
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire