After a season marred by injury, Arizona (19-10, 8-9) was happy to go out with only one starter still out of the line-up. They weren’t happy with the way things ended up in their five-set loss (30-28, 25-16, 21-25, 24-26, 15-11) to USC (20-8, 12-5).
“It’s unfortunate we really didn’t play very well together,” coach Dave Rubio said. “The first two sets were awful. I felt like I was coaching a different team than I’ve coached in the past. I just spent 30 minutes asking the team what the deal was. I have no idea. It was really a bunch of individuals playing out there tonight. It’s remarkable that we even did as well as we did. But the team was not together. The team was disjointed. I’m grasping at straws right now in terms of trying to figure out what happened.
“When the coach is reduced to being a cheerleader to try to motivate their kids with any kind of enthusiasm and passion, it doesn’t really bode well for that team,” he said. “And that’s exactly what it was. I was searching for answers for why there was such a lack of energy. No chemistry. No communication. No excitement. No enthusiasm.”
Rubio suggested that their may be some underlying drama between teammates, but said that they need to work that out among themselves in the locker room. He said that they wouldn’t share it with him, but “there’s a reason it happened tonight.”
The Wildcats started out building a 6-2 lead in the first set. As expected from a team that will likely be hosting in the NCAA Tournament, the Women of Troy didn’t go away. USC went on an 8-4 run to tie things up at 10-all, then began to pull away.
When the score reached 24-18, the set looked over. Arizona just wasn’t quite ready to let that happen. Behind the serving of freshman Malina Kalei Ua, the Wildcats scored three straight. USC coach Brent Crouch called the timeout hoping to get his team back on track.
It didn’t work.
The Wildcats scored three more to tie it at 24. Emily Baptista finally got the side-out for USC, giving them their seventh set point. Devyn Cross, playing in her first match since suffering a concussion on Nov. 2, emphatically ended that with her second kill of the night.
A kill by Paige Whipple followed, giving Arizona a set point of their own. USC’s Brooke Botkin responded with two straight kills to give her team their eighth set point at 27-26. Once again, Cross would have none of it, sending the ball to the floor to extend the set for the Wildcats.
Yet another kill by Botkin delivered the ninth set point for USC. This time, they wouldn’t fail, ending the set 30-28 on a block of Kendra Dahlke by Raquel Lazaro and Jasmine Gross.
The second set unfolded much like the first. The two teams stayed close until 10-9, then USC began to pull away. This time, Arizona would mount no comeback attempt, though. The Women of Troy closed it out easily 25-16 to go up 2-0.
Just as had been the case in three of their last four matches, the Wildcats would need it to go five sets if they were going to get the win.
They took the first step towards that in the third.
The two teams battled in a close set, reaching their final tie at 19-all. The Wildcats grabbed the set 25-21 with a 6-2 run down the stretch. They would at least get a fourth set.
Another tight set followed, but Arizona kept their nose in front for most of it, stretching the lead to as many as four points. A forceful cross-court kill by Candice Denny brought the Wildcats to their first set point at 24-22.
Two straight points went to USC to tie it up at 24, but the Wildcats pushed on. A kill by Dahlke gave them their second set point. A whirlwind rally ended with the hard shot down the line from Dahlke, pushing the match to a fifth set.
The short set was also tightly contested. The two teams battled back and forth, tying the score six times and exchanging the lead on four occasions. When the score reached 10-all, USC put their foot down. Arizona would only score one more point as the Women of Troy went on a 5-1 run to close out the match.
“We definitely let go of an opportunity that could have solidified us for the playoffs, which is really disappointing after this season and everything we’ve been through,” junior setter Julia Patterson said. “But I think we can walk away with this taste in our mouth and make sure when we come into the gym tomorrow and Sunday that we beat UCLA, because that’s an important match for us.”
The team faces UCLA at noon on Sunday for their next-to-last home match.