In the past 10 years, Arizona had only lost six matches to Arizona State. They hadn’t been swept by the Sun Devils since 2007. After dropping the first match to ASU earlier in the season, the Wildcats hoped to keep that streak alive with a victory on senior day.
The thought they had, too. At 14-13 in the fifth set, an ASU attack was called long. Arizona ran off the floor, believing they had taken the match. After review, the call was overturned and the teams were back at it. After a set with nine ties and five lead changes, the Sun Devils took the match 3-2 with a 17-15 victory in the fifth set.
“Definitely tough,” senior setter Julia Patterson said. “Obviously, thinking we had it won. Coming back and the call reverse, and then ending like that. It was tough, but we showed grit, fight, and competed.”
That grit and fight were something the Wildcats showed all season as they dealt with shifting lineups due to injuries. Patterson and fellow senior Devyn Cross weren’t sorry that it went that way, though.
“I’m just really proud of us,” Cross said. “This game just showed how much fight our team has and that even though our season didn’t go the way we wanted, nobody can ever talk down on us and never say that we didn’t try. Because we did.... We did everything we could and never gave up. So, I’m just really happy. I’m truly proud of us.”
When asked if she felt robbed by the injuries that the team has faced the last two years, Patterson said that wasn’t reaction she had to the circumstances.
“I think throughout the years of injuries, we’ve definitely grown probably more than we would have if we had less injuries,” she said. “I think each person individually and as a group, whether it’s on or off the court, has matured and faced things that a lot of other people our age probably haven’t faced. So I think it’s probably a blessing for the past four years.”
The Wildcats came into the match with several players approaching career milestones. Junior Paige Whipple surpassed 1,000 kills for her career in the second set. She needed only seven. She got 24. Only six juniors had met the 1,000 kills mark for Arizona volleyball.
Cross got her 400th career block in set three becoming just the eighth player in program history to meet that mark. She had six blocks on the day.
Patterson needed 26 assists to move into sixth all time for the program. She ran past that, ending the day with 48.
It wasn’t just the upperclassmen setting records, though. Freshman libero Kamaile Hiapo moved pass the Arizona record for digs by a freshman (370) in the third set. She ended the day with 20 digs.
Those weren’t the things the seniors were concerned with as they ended their Arizona volleyball careers.
“Honestly, I didn’t know,” Cross said, describing the thoughts that went through her head when she was first told. “Like ‘Oh, you’re at 400 block.’ Sounds cool. Like, ‘No, that’s like a record.’ I was like, ‘What record?’ I was confused, and then my mom was telling me, I was like ‘Oh, that’s cool.’”
Their coach was more impressed.
“Those are two of the greatest players I’ve coached and certainly put on an Arizona uniform,” Arizona coach Dave Rubio said about Cross and Patterson.
Those two players and their teammates reached their milestones in one of the most exciting matches of the season. The first set was all Arizona State. The Sun Devils never trailed. They built the lead to eight points on several occasions, and eventually closed it out 25-18.
The Wildcats flipped the script in the second set. It was their turn to lead the entire set. Their biggest lead was 12 points until the end of the frame. Arizona took the set 25-11 to even things up.
The Sun Devils began to pull away fairly early in the third set. The Wildcats got a scare when hitter Katie Smoot went to the floor with an injury. With Arizona already playing a former libero at outside hitter, it was scary for both Smoot and the team. She was able to return several points later, but ASU already had a sizable lead.
Arizona didn’t go away, though. The Wildcats used a 5-0 run to close the lead to three points. After an ASU timeout, Arizona stayed on the comeback trail, saving three set points to tie things at 24-all.
It wasn’t enough. The Sun Devils earned another set point at 25-24, and put this one away to go up 2-1.
The momentum at the end of the third set was big for the Wildcats, even if they didn’t get the win. Arizona ran out to a big lead in the fourth set, peaking at 22-12 before ASU went on their own run to cut that lead in half.
The hole was too deep for the Sun Devils. The Wildcats pushed the match to a fifth set with the 25-20 victory.
Arizona got off to the quick start they needed in the final set, but ASU was able to grab the lead at 7-6. The biggest lead for either team down the stretch was three points for ASU before they finally earned the two-point victory in the final set.
Rubio always says that he doesn’t measure success by outcomes, but by effort. That was no different on Saturday afternoon.
“It was just a really outstanding year with a group of young ladies who you would want to go to war with every single day,” he said. “And that’s how it was. Really one of the most enjoyable seasons that I’ve had since I’ve coached here.”
His message to his players wasn’t one of regret.
“I told them, ‘What happened this season was magical,’ Rubio said. “I mean, it really was. As a coach every season I’m trying to find the right ingredients to have a team perform and to be together like this group was. It’s just, it’s so hard to do what these guys have done, and it won’t certainly be reflected by the win-loss record. But as a coach, all you’re asking for is what these guys gave me every single day in practice and every single match. And so it was really magical for me, and I think for them as well. And I wanted them to make sure that they remember that 10 years from now, they’re not going to remember the wins and losses. They’re just going to remember how hard we fought for each other and the character that we showed throughout the season. Very few seasons I’ve had where it’s been magical like this with a team, just so together and willing to sacrifice so much for one another. The selflessness that goes on along with having a magical season. It’s just so rare that that ever happens.”
In addition to Cross and Patterson, the Wildcats said goodbye to Elizabeth Shelton, Shardonee Hayes, Makenna Martin and Emi Pua’a in the senior day ceremony before the match.