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Arizona volleyball falls to Stanford in straight sets

COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: OCT 19 Colorado at Arizona
Katie Smoot was the lone bright spot on offense as Arizona faced Stanford
Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Under different circumstances, knowing that Stanford’s two-time national player of the year was going to sit out her third straight match might make the Arizona Wildcats feel like the odds were in their favor. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they were still facing a Stanford team that swept the Pac-12 Player of the Week, Setter of the Week and Freshman of the Week awards last week despite the absence of star Kathryn Plummer.

Stanford wasn’t the only one with injury challenges. Arizona had its own injury problems for the third straight weekend. The Wildcats played without starting middle blocker Shardonee Hayes and their top two liberos, Kamaile Hiapo and Makenna Martin.

In the end, nothing went in Arizona’s favor. The Wildcats left Maples Pavilion with another game in the loss column after dropping three straight sets by a score of 25-16, 25-14, 25-16.

Even those scores don’t tell the tale of how dominant Stanford was. Arizona was at 10, 12 and 11 points when Stanford hit 20 in each set. Everything looked simple for the Cardinal.

The absences of Hiapo and Martin might have been the most glaring weaknesses for Arizona. Competing against a team like the Cardinal requires impeccable first contact. The Wildcats not only didn’t have impeccable first contact, they sometimes had difficulty even deciding who was going to make that contact.

The struggles on serve receive were insurmountable both because of the Cardinal’s skill and the Wildcats’ lack of communication. Stanford had 10 aces, several of which should not have been aces. The Cardinal had 9 service errors, but they didn’t really matter, because the Wildcats were often their own worst enemies.

Arizona not only had physical difficulty returning the serve, but the lack of communication led to balls hitting the floor between players while they gave each other puzzled looks. It added up to 10 reception errors for the Wildcats.

The mental part of the game was as difficult as the physical part. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise, though. A team like the Cardinal has a way of getting into an opponent’s head.

Arizona couldn’t get free points off its own serve, either. The team didn’t manage a single ace, although the Wildcats did put up 6 service errors—and the errors didn’t stop with the serve.

Those errors ate the team up. The Wildcats managed only 29 kills to offset 20 attack errors. Meanwhile, across the net, the Cardinal had 39 kills and only 7 errors. As a team, Arizona hit .102 compared to Stanford’s .405.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that it was not Arizona’s night was the hitting percentage of senior middle blocker Devyn Cross. Cross had a .512 hitting percentage coming into the match, good for No. 1 in the country. After putting up .111 against Stanford, her season average fell to .492. That should still keep her in first, but just by the skin of her teeth.

The Wildcats’ most important offensive weapon, Paige Whipple, had only 4 kills on -.056 hitting. It was the second time in the last three matches that she has hit in negative territory. Whipple also had 2 reception errors, a service error and a blocking error.

Katie Smoot was the only consistent offensive weapon the Wildcats had. Last season, the Bay Area native had 3 kills, 7 blocks and 2 aces on her visit home. This year, she led the Wildcats with 11 kills and 1 solo block for a team-high 12 points. She added 6 digs.

Like all of the Wildcats, though, Smoot struggled with errors, especially on serve receive. She had 4 reception errors to go along with a service error and a blocking error, and she hit only .179 for the match.

The loss dropped the Wildcats to 11-6 on the season and 1-4 in the Pac-12. They will have to try to right the ship quickly before facing No. 16 California on Sunday.

The Golden Bears (14-1, 4-1) swept Arizona State earlier Friday evening. That match was also played in Maples Pavilion due to the power outage in the East Bay. However, the Cal-Arizona match will be help in Haas Pavilion as scheduled.