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Arizona volleyball seniors look for win over ‘that school up north’ in their final match

COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: NOV 16 USC at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Six players will say goodbye to Arizona volleyball on Saturday. They also get the chance for a little revenge against their rivals from Tempe. But the most important part of the day will be celebrating their accomplishments over the past few years and what lies ahead.

“You’re more than just friends,” middle blocker Devyn Cross said. “It’s people you care about the rest of your life. You don’t want to leave. You’re excited to see what everybody else is going to do, where you’re going to go in the world. You just take that with you, and just kind of run with it.”

The team didn’t have the season they had hoped for, but the difficulties they have encountered gave them an opportunity to forge bonds that might be even stronger as a result.

“All the obstacles and adversity that we’ve gone through, either together or individually, those lessons will take us far into the rest of our careers,” setter Julia Patterson said. “So I think just adding the relationships and bonds that we’ve made here is just going to be something that’s unforgettable.”

Some of those adversities have brought their volleyball careers to a premature end. Both Elizabeth Shelton and Shardonee Hayes had another year of eligiblity left. With redshirt years in their past, they could have returned for one more go-round as Wildcats. Injuries led both of them to the conclusion that it was time to call it a career.

“It’s been hard for those guys because they haven’t fulfilled, I think, what they envisioned what their career would be like as freshmen because of the injuries and the concussions and all those kind of things,” coach Dave Rubio said. “I think it’s always a difficult decision to make when you finally say, ‘Look, I’ve had enough and it’s time to turn the page and start another chapter in my life.’”

Shelton suffered her second concussion in as many years early in Pac-12 play. Last year, she was out of the line-up for the entirety of the conference season. This year, it was more of the same.

Hayes has also missed most of league play after a concussion this season, putting the final nail in the coffin of her life on the volleyball court. She and her teammate ultimately arrived at the same comclusion.

“For Shardonee, it’s been a laundry list of injuries, so not just the concussion,” Rubio said. “It’s been her shins, it’s been her back.... but it’s hard because when you have a year of eligibility left, it’s like you still want to play but your body just can’t do it. And so last week was I think when they both decided, 'It’s time. We have to move on,' and I think it’s best for them and best for the team. And overall it’s the right decision to make.”

So, the five players who came in together—Cross, Patterson, Hayes, Shelton and Makenna Martin—will celebrate the bonds they formed with each other and the fellow senior who joined them along the way.

“I think we’re a very special class where really none of us have ever left,” Patterson said. “A lot of the different classes on our team and before, there’s been people that left. And we’ve all pretty much stuck together and stayed here through four years. So that’s something special for all of us.”

“And we added one more,” Cross said. “We added Emi (Pua’a).”

“Yeah, we added Emi and she just fit right in,” Patterson concluded.

On Saturday, they want two more things.

For Cross?

“I just don’t want to cry,” she said.

For Patterson, it’s going out with one more special victory.

“Obviously it’s going to be a great game,” she said. “It’s against ASU. It’s a big rivalry game. And for our seniors, it’s our last game. And so we’re going to go all out and we don’t want to end on a loss, especially with that school up north.”

The Wildcats (15-16, 5-14) face the Sun Devils (16-14, 8-11) on Saturday, Nov. 29 at 12 p.m. MST in McKale Center.