Arizona coach Dave Rubio was not happy after the team’s loss to USC Friday night. After a post-practice meeting on Saturday, though, both he and his team felt they had worked through the issues that kept them from grasping an important opportunity against the Women of Troy. Against the Bruins, there were no such struggles.
“Every year, regardless of what sport you play, you’re always at a crossroads at some point in the season,” Rubio said. “Sometimes it’s early, sometimes in the middle, sometimes it’s late. Depending on how you handle those (crises), and I really felt like Friday was kind of a crisis for us. I hadn’t seen us be that selfish with one another, is probably the best way to put it. So, we were able to kind of work through some of that yesterday.
“It’s a terrific group of young ladies. What makes it easy is that 99% of the time, if I say something, they’re going to make the best effort to do it. We had, not a lengthy discussion, but we just talked some things out and hopefully we’re on the right track. Today certainly showed that we took to heart some of the things that were said in the meeting yesterday.”
Starting libero Makenna Martin agreed.
“Dave addressed it in the locker room after the match Friday,” Martin said. “And we just had a meeting Saturday after practice. What I took away from it was (assistant coach) Rita’s (Stubbs) little talk. I just think that being able to come together like we did on Saturday, Dave said just to set everything aside and just re-buy into the system. I think we all did that today, and it showed. So, it feels good to have everybody back on the same page.”
The No. 24 Wildcats dominated short-handed No. 25 UCLA on Sunday to reach 20 wins for the 18th time in school history, while also getting back to .500 in Pac-12 play. After winning only 11 matches last season, the team has already put together nine more victories this season than last. They close out with matches over two of the bottom three teams in the Pac-12, giving them the opportunity to have the largest single-season turnaround since 1992-93.
“It was an important win for us,” Rubio said. “We needed, at the minimum, a split this weekend, and it was nice to be able to do that.”
In previous matches, Arizona often struggled to win long rallies. On Sunday, it didn’t matter whether the rallies were short or long; the Wildcats came out on top more often than not throughout the short three-set (25-13, 25-22, 25-16) affair.
“UCLA was kind of like we were, which is they were missing starters,” Rubio said. “And it’s tough when, all of a sudden, your starting setter is out. Now, their starting setter’s out. If we lose Julia (Patterson), you’ve got two hands behind your back vs if we lose Kendra (Dahlke). Kendra, it’s only one arm behind your back. So, unfortunately, their setter was out and their starting outside hitter was out. So, it was a really tough match for those guys to have any kind of rhythm. Both of those kids were playing against ASU, but for whatever reason, health-wise, they just weren’t able to make it tonight.”
Fortunately for Arizona, they didn’t have to play with either arm behind their back this match. Dahlke had eight kills in just the opening frame, equaling the Bruins all on her own. As a team, the Wildcats found the floor 16 times, had two blocks, and threw in two aces en route to a 25-13 opening set win.
UCLA regrouped early in the second, building a small lead, but had difficulty maintaining the level of play. With Arizona ahead 10-9 in the set, UCLA thought they had tied it up when Paige Whipple was called for being in the net. A successful Wildcat challenge later, the Bruins were down 11-9 .
From there, the ‘Cats went on a 9-4 run, seemingly taking control of the set 20-13. UCLA wasn’t quite ready to give up, though. With Devon Chang serving, the Bruins responded with a 6-0 run to cut the margin to a single point.
Even after Devyn Cross put an end to UCLA’s run, Arizona had difficulty putting the Bruins away. Not until UCLA tied it up at 22-all did the Wildcats finally string several points together, ending the set on a 3-0 run to go up two sets.
The Wildcats controlled the third set from the first serve. Arizona never trailed, and only faced a tie at 1-1 in the set.
UCLA struggled to put runs together, scoring more than one point in a row on only two occasions all set. Even those “runs” consisted of just two points each. The sweep turned into a mere formality, with the Wildcats closing it out 25-16.
Dahlke led the match with 20 kills on 43 attacks. She had only five errors all match, ending with a .372 hitting percentage. She also threw in a block and eight digs to top it off.
Cross also posted double-digit kills, putting together 10 on a .750 hitting percentage. She, too, had one block.
Patterson led the match in assists with 36. She had yet another double-double with 13 digs. Shardonee Hayes and Candice Denny tied with a match-leading three blocks each.
Martin was also on her game, although she still played with her leg bandaged. She tied UCLA’s Zana Muno for the match lead with 18 digs, praising trainer Emily Johnson for getting her back in shape to play despite lingering muscle tightness.
The Wildcats will wrap up their regular season home slate with a match against Cal at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Senior Day festivities will follow that match.