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Arizona volleyball finally drops a set, but beats Sacramento State to extend winning streak to 8

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

The Arizona volleyball team had their 21-set streak snapped Saturday but beat Sacramento State 3-1 (28-30, 25-16, 25-12, 25-23) to extend their winning streak to eight matches heading into Pac-12 play.

“Winning these games in non-conference has a huge impact on our chances of getting into the postseason, so winning those straight sets has obviously heightened our positioning and it also gives us confidence,” said senior setter Julia Patterson.

Sacramento State (5-8) won the first set, a back-and-forth affair that featured 14 ties and seven lead changes. It was the first time the Wildcats (10-2) dropped a set in two weeks.

They cruised through the second and third sets before staving off a late surge by the Hornets in the fourth.

“Today was tough for us,” said Arizona coach Dave Rubio. “I told the players that I thought confidence is a really interesting thing that has a really good impact on teams and it can have a really bad impact on a team. I felt like Sac State came in with nothing to lose and really played well. ... It was a struggle for us today. ... I felt like we were really fortunate to come out of there with a win. I’m really looking forward to this coming week now that non-conference is finished.”

Despite hitting .233 in the first set, Arizona hit .319 on the day. Sac State hit .150.

Junior Paige Whipple led Arizona with 19 kills on .286 hitting. Patterson had seven kills on 12 swings to go along with 48 assists and seven digs. Whipple and Devyn Cross, who contributed 10 kills, both had a team-best 11 digs.

“The key for us in our offense is the backrow attack,” Rubio said. “In all six rotations we have someone that we can set. When we do that, we really put pressure on the other team. Today I thought it was OK. We made a lot of errors.”

Sophomore Whittnee Nihipali, one of Arizona’s most physical hitters, started the final three sets and posted a career-high 12 kills on .333 hitting, continuing her recent emergence.

A day earlier, she logged a career-high 10 kills against Alabama State and eight kills against New Mexico State. Her previous high was four kills, set last season.

“I think Whittnee, as all athletes do, she has to make the decision of whether or not she wants to really compete to play,” Rubio said. “Eventually you’re just going to get tired of not playing. Because she’s got the talent obviously, but the confidence is going to be the most important thing for her and I think today, this weekend, put herself in a position to feel better about herself and her role on the team.”

Rubio was disappointed by his team’s serving and receiving. Arizona committed six service errors and allowed nine service aces.

“It felt like I’m watching a tennis match and you have the No. 1 seed double-faulting all the time or hitting the ball just wide,” he said. “I felt we were moving the scoreboard for Sacramento State by making too many errors on our side.”

Arizona will need to clean things up Thursday when it opens conference play at ASU.

“We had been playing pretty well up until this weekend,” Rubio said. “I thought against New Mexico State (on Friday) we weren’t particularly sharp and then today we weren’t sharp at all. ... So much of it is our mental outlook and how we’re going to approach teams. The players sometimes, I feel like it’s human nature to not feel too threatened by a Sacramento State. ... I’m not pleased how we played this week, especially heading into conference this week. We have a lot of things to work on.”

Postgame interviews

Devyn Cross and Julia Patterson

Hear what Devyn Cross and Julia Patterson had to say after Arizona Volleyball’s 3-1 win over Sacramento State

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, September 21, 2019

Dave Rubio

Here’s Dave Rubio after Arizona Volleyball beat Sacramento State 3-1 to improve to 10-2 heading into Pac-12 play

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, September 21, 2019