After consecutive straight set victories to open the 2019 season, No. 24 Arizona volleyball was upset by the Samford Bulldogs Saturday afternoon in McKale Center, 3-2 (22-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-18, 15-12) to drop the last match of the annual Cactus Classic and fall to 2-1 on the new year.
To put the upset in perspective, the victory was Samford’s first-ever against a top-25 opponent.
It was a vastly different performance than the Wildcats’ two dominant wins against Appalachian State and Loyola Marymount on Friday, and the UA never really got going after a slow start.
Arizona hit at a percentage that was 100 points less than in either of the wins against Appalachian State and Loyola (.179 compared to .298 and .367) and made more errors against the Bulldogs (35) than they did in the first two matches combined (30).
The continued absence of seniors Devyn Cross (disciplinary issue) and Makenna Martin (groin injury) didn’t help matters either.
Elizabeth Shelton, who notched 12 kills and three blocks, Julia Patterson, who was three kills away from a triple double, and true freshman libero Kamaile Hiapo were probably the biggest bright spots, but it was clear throughout the match that the Cats as a whole just weren’t as sharp as they had been on Friday.
Even so, Arizona still could have won the match after they had dropped the first set and battled from 2-1 down to force a decisive fifth game.
The score was as close as 13-12 in the final frame before Samford was able to pull away and claim the victory.
“I knew that today would be the hardest match to play for us in the tournament,” said Arizona coach Dave Rubio afterwards.
“Because last night was pretty easy for us. Mentally and emotionally we were engaged in what was going to happen, because we knew that we had to play well against Loyola, but I knew today was going to be against a really good team that had enough talent that if we didn’t show up and play, we wouldn’t come out on top.
“Samford really played well but emotionally we were not engaged. I knew during warmups that we didn’t feel threatened and as a result we’re coming out with a loss.”
The longtime head coach then went on to mention the negative repercussions that would come with the defeat.
“That’s a bad match for us to lose,” he said. “You know, from the RPI standpoint, from the top 25 standpoint we’ll fall out of the poll and when the committee looks at this they’re going, ‘well what’s Arizona doing losing to Samford?’ These are all bad things for us. But that kind of thing happens, that’s just kind of part of sports, and you know, we’ll regroup and continue to get better and put it behind us.”
The Wildcats will be back in action next weekend at the SDSU/USD Invitational, where they will face Nebraska on Friday and West Virginia and San Diego State on Saturday.