Arizona didn’t look recognizable on court on Friday night. For the first time this season, they were swept by an opponent in three quick sets, as No. 15 Washington cruised to victory (25-18, 25-23, 25-23).
Coach Dave Rubio put it down to lack of preparation and effort.
“We never got into any kind of rhythm, any kind of flow,” he said. “Our kids were not prepared. We were not prepared at all.”
“Blocking, defense, serving passing, just kind of run right down the line, check off all the boxes, we were not very good,” he said. “The fact that we were even close in sets two and three was pretty amazing, but it was a poor effort on our part. We were not prepared to play tonight against a good team.”
The Huskies dominated the first set, taking it 25-18 with 12 kills on a .385 hitting percentage and three blocks. On the other side of the net, the Wildcats had 11 kills, but only hit .097 and had none of the signature blocking that they’ve displayed in previous matches. The Wildcats would end the match with only one team block.
From the beginning of the match, Arizona looked like a different team than the one that had rushed out to a 14-2 record and broke into the Top 25. In many ways, they were.
Freshman Whittnee Nihipali got her first start and Candice Denny started her third match in a row, while usual starters Liz Shelton and Paige Whipple sat out and Katie Smoot played less than usual. Smoot eventually entered the match at 17-19 in the second set and played sparingly for the rest of the contest, but the Wildcats would go without their other two starters for the entire match.
Shelton and Smoot were expected to be out. Shelton has been in concussion protocol for several weeks, and Smoot was dealing with an abdominal injury that kept her out of Arizona’s matches against the Oregon schools last week.
Whipple was an unexpected scratch — and a costly one. She, too, is now in concussion protocol with an uncertain timeline for returning.
Whipple has been the only Wildcat other than Kendra Dahlke to lead the team in kills this season. She’s typically the number two scorer for Arizona. Neither Dahlke nor Rubio wanted that to be an excuse, though.
“I’m disappointed in how we responded without her being there,” Rubio said. He added that they “have enough kids in the program” that they should be able to withstand the inevitable injuries, but that losing Dahlke, Whipple, or Julia Patterson could be devastating to the team.
After Washington took the first in fairly dominant fashion, Rubio tried a different tactic. Defensive specialist Emi Pua’a started in Nihipali’s stead. It didn’t help.
Arizona fell behind 5-0, forcing Rubio to take a quick timeout. Arizona was able to chip away at the lead, eventually taking the 12-11 lead. Despite a tight set, the Wildcats eventually succumbed in a close 25-23 set to go down 2-0.
The third proceeded much like the second. Washington started quickly. Arizona tried to get back in it, with a kill from Dahlke eventually tying it at 23-23. The Huskies quickly slammed the door, taking the final two points to end the match.
Dahlke was the only Wildcat with double-digit kills. She ended the match with 18 on a .382 hitting percentage. She also had six digs. Patterson contributed 34 assists. Makenna Martin led the team with 10 digs.
The Huskies had 43 total kills on a .333 hitting percentage. They also tallied nine team blocks.
“The win and the loss is not the point to me,” Rubio said. “To me, we were unable to put ourselves in a good enough mindset to compete tonight. If we had been, it would have been a closer match, but to my mind we were resigned to the fact that we weren’t going to compete tonight.”
Arizona returns to action Sunday when it hosts No. 22 Washington State at 12 p.m. MST.
Kendra Dahlke on Arizona Volleyball’s loss to No. 15 WashingtonPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, October 5, 2018