After a difficult 2017 for both teams, Arizona and ASU played non-conference schedules ranked outside the top 100. Now comes the gauntlet of Pac-12 volleyball, and Arizona wanted to show they were ready.
Playing with a kind of energy and excitement that hasn’t always been evident in the early going, the Wildcats made that statement on Thursday night, securing their first conference victory in a sweep (25-18, 25-21, 25-18) over the Sun Devils in front a raucous 2,648 fans.
“It was nice to play in front of a terrific crowd,” Arizona coach Dave Rubio said. “I really want to thank the Zona Zoo for coming out in force.” He added that, in addition to the great support from the Tucson community, he thought it was the largest student crowd he’d seen in his 27 years at Arizona.
The first set progressed as most of Arizona’s non-conference matches have: a close match until about two-thirds of way through the set, then the Wildcats put their foot down and pulled away.
Shardonee Hayes, who was returning from concussion protocol that has kept her out since Sept. 7, joined with Katie Smoot to give Kendra Dahlke the kind of backup Rubio has been looking for all season.
Hayes and Smoot pitched in with two kills each in the first set on hitting percentages of .667 and .400, respectively. Smoot’s second kill gave the Wildcats set point at 24-18. They would end the match with 9 kills each and identical .643 hitting percentages.
ASU was led by USC transfer Alyse Ford, who has become a regular fixture on the Sun Devil leader boards since the second week of the season. By the end of the first set, it was Ford who led the game in kills.
The second set proceeded much like the first. A close score. Dahlke and Ford leading their respective teams. Arizona pulling away at the end for a 25-21 win. The difference was that Dahlke was getting strong support; Ford was carrying the load almost entirely alone.
That theme would carry into the final set. Although it ended in the same 25-18 score as the first set, it felt like a foregone conclusion in a way that the first didn’t.
While the Wildcats had struggled a bit with hitting in the first two sets—hitting .182 in each of them—they hit a sparkling .375 with a .469 kill percentage in the deciding set.
More important than hitting percentage or total kills was Arizona’s dominance at the net. Devyn Cross and Paige Whipple joined Hayes and Smoot to rack up 12 total team blocks.
ASU didn’t get their first block until 5-5 in the second set, and ended up with three on the night. The Sun Devils had difficulty getting it past the front line of Arizona, and the Wildcats took advantage.
“It’s always good to beat the Sun Devils,” Rubio said.
Now the Wildcats take the show on the road to face No. 2-ranked Stanford on Sunday.