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Arizona volleyball falls short in 5-set loss to No. 17 Utah

COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: OCT 25 Oregon State at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Prior to leaving for the trip to Colorado and Utah, Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said that, considering his team’s injury situation, he had no expectations as far as wins and losses. Still, the Wildcats exceeded most expectations by pushing No. 17 Utah to five sets (22-25, 25-20, 25-20, 19-25, 15-8) at the Huntsman Center on Sunday.

Arizona was able to get one of their injured players back on the court as senior libero/defensive specialist Makenna Martin played her first match of the year as a serving specialist. The Pac-12 Network also reported that junior middle blocker Shardonee Hayes took part in warm-ups, although she didn’t play.

In addition to a little more depth, the Wildcats raised their game on Sunday. Friday night in Boulder, they suffered from numerous slow starts that put them in holes too deep to climb out of. That wasn’t a problem against Utah until the deciding set.

Senior setter Julia Patterson stuffed the stat sheet with a triple-double, accounting for 10 kills on .562 hitting. She added 46 assists and 13 digs for the Wildcats.

Patterson was one of four Wildcats who had double-digit kills in the match. Katie Smoot led the group with 19, tying her season high set against Oregon State. She added six digs and four blocks on the day.

Paige Whipple was just behind Smoot with 17 kills on .264 hitting. Whipple also had seven digs and three blocks.

Senior middle blocker Devyn Cross followed up her career night at Colorado with another exceptional performance. Cross had 12 kills on .400 hitting. Her match-leading seven blocks came after a 10-block night in Boulder.

The Wildcats just couldn’t overcome the superb outing by Utah’s Dani Drews. Drews led the match with 25 kills while hitting .392.

They also struggled against the Utes’ service game, which accounted for nine aces to just two for the Wildcats. Despite continuing to rely on the short serve, Arizona had as many service errors as Utah had service aces.

Otherwise, there wasn’t much between the two teams despite their records coming into the match. The Utes were just slightly better in each category, giving them the edge in a close match.

The home team outhit the Wildcats .259 to .255. They had four more kills than the visitors. Their sideout and point scoring percentages were 5 percent higher. Both teams had 12 blocks.

The first set was extremely close. The biggest lead was Utah’s 3-1 advantage until Arizona went up 23-20. That three-point margin would stand as the Wildcats went up 1-0 on the score of 25-22.

The Utes opened a 4-1 lead in set two, but the Wildcats quickly got it down to 5-4. Utah pushed it back to 12-7, and Arizona tied it at 14.

The Wildcats just couldn’t get over the hump to take the lead. The Utes built their lead back to three points at 18-15, and closed it out with a 7-5 advantage down the stretch.

Arizona got a quick start to the third set. They maintained a lead of three points through most of the first half until Utah tied it at 14. The Utes outscored the Wildcats 11-6 from that point to take the 2-1 lead.

A quick start to the fourth set was just what the Wildcats needed. The team built a 9-3 lead in the early going. The closest the Utes could get was within two points at 20-18, but Arizona evened the match with a 5-1 run to close set four.

They couldn’t get the same traction in the final set. The closest the Wildcats would get was 1-1 at the opening of the set. The Utes just kept extending the lead until it was up to seven. That would be the final margin as they closed it out 15-8 for the 3-2 victory.

While Arizona finally looks to be getting some players back, they will return home to face the defending national champion and fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal and the No. 20 California Golden Bears next weekend. Things aren’t going to get any easier.