Arizona and Oregon State enter their Sunday matchup from very different directions. The Wildcats got their first road win in conference play by defeating No. 12 Oregon 3-2 on Friday. Meanwhile, the Beavers were hosting ASU, and got swept by a Sun Devils team that was picked to finish 11th in the conference.
The 10-5 Beavers have been hovering in the “others receiving votes” list of the AVCA poll since the preseason, although the Pac-12 coaches actually picked them to finish behind Arizona.
Beating No. 21 Iowa State in Ames seemed to validate the national voters’ confidence. They also defeated a San Diego team that, while saddled with a losing record, were still hanging in the poll at No. 23.
Then came Pac-12 season.
Losing to No. 12 Oregon in a four-set rivalry game played in Matthew Knight Arena wasn’t too surprising. It was also understandable to lose to No. 13 Washington in a tough five-setter, even if it was in Gil Coliseum. Less understandable was the 25-22, 25-16, 25-19 home loss to ASU.
Beating an Arizona team that is currently third in the conference standings could help get the Beavers on the right track. Was the ASU loss a sign of weak confidence and a questionable future, or was it just the thing Oregon State needed to kick themselves into gear?
Arizona will still be missing Liz Shelton, who is out while in concussion protocol. Katie Smoot did not play against Oregon, and her status is unknown.
The Beavers won both matches against the Wildcats in straight sets last season, but this is a very different Arizona team. The Wildcats are ahead in the series by a margin of 47-17. There is every reason to believe Arizona can make it 48 wins on Sunday.
Against ASU, Oregon State lost the stats battle in digs, assists, and aces. This suggests difficulty with handling and passing the ball. Arizona should be able to exploit this with effective swings.
The Beavers also gave up eight blocks against ASU. The Sun Devils average 2.2 blocks per set, so they exceeded their average against OSU by almost half a block per set.
Meanwhile, Arizona averages 2.5 blocks per set and has actually improved on that stat as the competition has gotten tougher. Prior to getting just seven total blocks against Oregon, the Wildcats had double-digit blocks in four straight matches.
As a team, Oregon State only bests Arizona in two stats: blocks and service aces. The Beavers rank second in conference in blocks with 2.92 per set. The Wildcats sit at No. 5 with 2.45 bps.
Both teams are in the bottom half of the conference in aces, but Oregon State edges in the lead slightly—No. 8 to Arizona’s No. 9. The Beavers ace the opponent 1.24 times per set, while the Wildcats get 1.16 aces per set.
Depending on Smoot’s status, Arizona could be missing two starters for this match. However, Candice Denny filled in for Smoot effectively against Oregon, and Whittnee Nihipali also saw time on the floor. It’s not optimal, especially on the road, but Arizona is fortunate to be deep at the hitter positions.
If the two squads put up their averages, Arizona is in a good position to win, even down two players. However, the Beavers are out to salvage both pride and postseason hopes. ASU may have been a “trap game,” but OSU will definitely not be overlook the Wildcats.
Oregon State players to watch for
The Beavers are lacking in players whose stats rank top 10 in the conference. The three players who find themselves among the best in the league specialize in slowing down the other team or setting up their own.
Redshirt freshman Lindsey Schell is No. 3 in blocks per set with 4.68. Arizona has already faced the top two in this category, who play for Stanford and Oregon, respectively. Schell also averages 1.8 kills per set and 2.55 points per set.
The 6’2” middle blocker has struggled a bit since entering conference play, though. In her six sets of action, she has recorded only six blocks. In the opening loss to Oregon, she played only one set and recorded no kills.
Sophomore Grace Massey also cracks the conference top 10. In this case, she is No. 3 in digs per set.
The libero averages 4.68 dps, and had a high of 29 digs against Oregon to open conference play. She has had double-digit digs in every match except one.
Her average has only dipped slightly since league play started. In 12 sets played, she is averaging 4.58 digs.
Freshman setter Maddie Sheehan is No. 10 in assists with 8.68 per set. Her best game of the year came just before Pac-12 play started, when the team pulled off a nominal upset against San Diego.
Sheehan not only set up her teammates with 44 assists that match, she also threw in six kills and five blocks. Her effort against the Toreros resulted in a season-high 8.5 points.
Maddie Goings and Amy Underdown are the two primary beneficiaries of Sheehan’s assists. Both average over 3 kills per set, with Goings leading the team at 3.34 kps. Underdown leads in points per set with 3.85.
Underdown’s serve also increases her value to her team. The junior transfer from Northeastern has 16 service aces on the year, tying her with Massey for No. 1 on the team.
Against Oregon, Kendra Dahlke passed Jennifer Abernathy to become No. 10 in career kills at Arizona. Abernathy set her record between 2002-05. Now standing at 1,192 career kills, Dahlke needs only 22 to pass Melissa McLinden (1982-85). She averages over 5 kills per set this season, so it would probably take another five-setter to surpass McLinden in Corvallis. At worst, she will be in a good position to take over ninth place next weekend when the Wildcats return to McKale Center.