Before leaving for San Diego, Arizona volleyball met with the media to talk about the upcoming tournament. A theme that day for both coach and players was mental strength.
The Wildcats showed some of that mental fortitude against No. 2 Nebraska on Friday afternoon when they came back from a disastrous second set to win the third and push the Cornhuskers in the fourth.
Arizona ended up losing in four sets (17-25, 14-25, 25-17, 17-25), but they became the first unranked team to take a set off Nebraska since last October.
Paige Whipple led the Wildcats with 13 kills and 14 points. She added 6 digs, an assist and an ace to that stat line. She was followed by three Wildcats with 6 kills each—Devyn Cross, Katie Smoot and Elizabeth Shelton.
Cross added 2 digs and 3 blocks, while Smoot had 14 digs and 2 blocks. It was only the second time in her career that Smoot has had more than 7 digs in a match. The first was last weekend when she had 10 against Loyola Marymount.
Senior setter Julia Patterson surpassed 2,500 assists for her career with 34 in the match. She went in needing 24. Patterson also had 7 digs and 4 kills on .500 hitting.
It was always going to be an uphill battle to beat the Huskers, but the second set proved just how dominant last year’s national runner-up is. Arizona didn’t score their first point in the set until Nebraska had run off six straight and coach Dave Rubio had used both of his timeouts. The Huskers served up seven more points before the Wildcats scored again.
The match didn’t start out so lopsided. The Wildcats held their own in the first set for over half the frame. They never let the No. 2 team in the country get ahead by more than three ponts. They just couldn’t hold it.
With a 15-14 lead in the first set, Nebraska called a timeout. They emerged to go on a 10-3 run to go up 1-0 in the match.
The collapse seemed to bleed over into the second set. Arizona just couldn’t seem to do anything right.
But they didn’t give up.
With their backs against the wall, the Wildcats dominated the third. At 0-1, Rubio challenged a call. The challenge went Arizona’s way to make it 1-1. The rest of the set did, too.
The Wildcats went on a 6-0 run after winning the challenge. There would be later runs of 4-0 and 3-0, and Arizona would push it to a fourth set.
The fourth looked like it might go the Wildcats’ way at the beginning. One point from Nebraska would be followed by two from Arizona. Another point for Nebraska, three for Arizona. The Wildcats built an 8-5 lead.
At that point, Nebraska did what champions do. A three-point run tied things up. The Huskers tied it again at 10-10. Then, they put their collective foot down to take a 14-10 lead. An 11-7 advantage down the stretch gave Nebraska the match.
Arizona will return to the court Sunday morning at 11 a.m. MST to face West Virginia. That match will be streamed on FloVolleyball, but requires a subscription. In the evening, the Wildcats face San Diego State at 7 p.m. MST.