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Arizona Wildcats volleyball opens Pac-12 play at ASU

The first Arizona-ASU event is here!

Photo courtesy Stan Liu/Arizona Athletics

The first Arizona-ASU matchup of the 2017-18 academic year is here.

The Arizona Wildcats volleyball team will open Pac-12 play against the Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday at 8 p.m. MST in Tempe.

“That’s always a fun game,” said UA junior outside hitter Tyler Spriggs. “We’ve been talking to the freshmen about it, letting them know what to expect. Their crowd is definitely gonna come with some crazy stuff, but it’s exciting. That rivalry and being in that environment gets you ready for the rest of the season.”

Arizona enters with a 6-3 record, while ASU is 10-2. The Sun Devils have won six matches in a row, while the Wildcats are coming off a disappointing loss to Illinois State, in which they were swept in straight sets.

“I think Illinois State is a really good team. Very efficient, very complete team, but if we played them in a month then it’s going to be different because of the physicality that we have,” said UA head coach Dave Rubio.

“But where we are in our development and our evolution as a team is not quite efficient enough, so it is what it is.”

Arizona is an extremely young team, as underclassmen account for 56 percent of its kills, 91 percent of its assists, 63 percent of its digs, and 62 percent of its blocks this season.

The Wildcats are holding opponents to a .156 hitting percentage — the third-best mark in the Pac-12 — but are only hitting .241 themselves, dead last in the conference.

“We have young kids that are playing significant roles and we’re trying to get them as much experience as we can, and we’re going to suffer some losses,” Rubio said.

“The lack of experience for us at this point is hurting us, preventing us from playing a little more efficiently. We’re just a little too error-prone. We miss assignments. We’re not quite as disciplined in our defense as we should be. All those things are correctable with time. That’s unfortunately going to be theme this year, I think until next year.”

Still, Spriggs thinks Arizona is on track to be a “very strong and dominant” team.

“Last year and the year before that, we were an older team, so we didn’t have to worry too much about teaching skills and breaking down things as much,” she said.

“This year, we’re taking a lot more time breaking down the skills and making sure everyone is going step by step to get where they need to be.”

Rubio said ASU, like Arizona, is also a rebuilding team, and says there are two keys to winning Thursday’s match.

“One, can the upperclassmen on either team step up and demonstrate some leadership in the form of execution, and can the younger kids and first-year kids handle the pressure and therefore play at a level that’s consistent enough to win?” he said.

Arizona and ASU split last season’s matches, with the home team winning each time.

Thursday’s match will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network Arizona. Daron Sutton and Al Scates will be on the call.

Arizona then hosts Washington State on Saturday at 6 p.m. in its Pac-12 home opener.

Gold out

ASU is having a “gold out” for Thursday’s match, and students will receive these t-shirts commemorating ASU’s third consecutive year of being the nation’s most innovative university:

The Wildcats are expecting a hostile environment as usual.

“The fans over there are wild,” said UA setter Julia Patterson. “They’re pretty rowdy and not afraid to talk smack or make fun of players. So I’m excited to be in that atmosphere.”

“It’s a fun environment if you can let things fly, because some of the stuff that you’ll hear from the fans will make you giggle like ‘oh wow that was so out of left field,’” Spriggs added.

“Every night is going to be war”

Seven teams in the Pac-12 are currently ranked in the top 25, meaning Arizona won’t have any easy weekends throughout the rest of the regular season.

“It’s not like other conferences where you have two or three (prominent) teams ... it’s every time we step on the court it’s going to be a big game, it’s going to be a lot of competition and back-and-forth battle, and that’s the fun thing about playing in this conference,” Spriggs said.

“Every night is going to be war.”

Especially since Pac-12 teams are highly familiar with each other.

“Every weekend in the non-conference, you never know what to expect because those are teams that you’ve never played against before,” Spriggs said. “And you don’t really have an idea of how they function other than their one scouting report and some film.

“And now we’re getting into conference (play) where, for the upperclassmen, we’ve played against these girls for two, three years straight and we kinda know their tendencies and what to expect out of their systems.”

Fake news?

Nobody really knows who leads the all-time series between Arizona and ASU, since both sides present different records.

Arizona claims it has a 47-43 all-time series lead vs. ASU, but ASU claims it has a 50-48 series lead over Arizona.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire