Arizona and Arizona State got off to very different starts this season. As the Wildcats were being swept away easily by Utah, the Sun Devils were opening their season with a shocking win over Washington in three sets. My, how things have changed.
After their three-set victory over ASU on Friday, Arizona is now 5-8 on the year and has already played most of the top teams in the Pac-12. Their rivals from Tempe are 1-10 and still have to play two of the teams in the top half of the standings.
Both teams are young and inconsistent, but ASU has even more youth than Arizona. The Sun Devils have just one senior on the roster, middle blocker Megan Beedie. Their two juniors are defensive specialist/libero Paige Denton and SUNY Geneseo transfer Maddie McLaughlin.
Beedie is the only one of the upperclassmen who has appeared in every set this season, but her role as a middle blocker means she is not always on the floor. That makes it necessary sometimes for the sophomores and freshmen to find their way without upperclass leadership.
The Wildcats used their experience and superior firepower to walk away with straight-set victory on Friday. While the ASU offense managed only 32 kills, Arizona found the floor 49 times. Only two players hit below .300 for the Wildcats, and one of those had just two attacks.
While the outside hitters were strong for Arizona, the biggest difference came at the middle blocker position. Beedie and sophomore Kennedi Boyd had a total of five kills for ASU. What is worse considering their position is that they hit a combined .153.
On the other side of the net, Merle Weidt and Zyonna Fellows were cleaning up for Arizona. The two combined for 16 kills and only one hitting error. The pair hit .600. They added three blocks, including a solo block by Fellows.
The Wildcats got 18 points from their middles compared to just six for the Sun Devils.
Arizona head coach Dave Rubio has said that they wanted to get their middles more involved in the offense. This season, position coach Rita Stubbs is overseeing increased offensive output from her players on a more consistent basis primarily because she has more depth.
Most of the offensive production at the position came from Devyn Cross last year. This year, it has remained consistent whether it is Fellows, Weidt or freshman China Rai Crouch.
Both starting middles have gotten at least five kills each in six of the Wildcats’ 13 matches this season. All of those matches were against conference foes. That only happened nine times in 32 matches last season and only seven times in 20 Pac-12 matches.
Against ASU, the slide attack was especially effective. It is something the group has been working on.
“If our middles continue to score like that, they got to start putting somebody over there against her,” Rubio said. “And if that’s the case, that opens up the outside hitter. So that’s some of the tactics that go into that. But to be a really good team, an upper team in the conference, you have to have a slide-attacking middle. There’s just no way around it. That is just one of the pieces.”
It is one more wrinkle to the offense that could help Arizona return to their dominance over ASU. More importantly, it could help them return to the top half of the conference standings.
How to follow the match
- Date/Time: Sunday, Mar. 7 at 4 p.m. MST
- Location: Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Ariz.
- TV: Pac-12 Arizona
- Stats: In-match stats will be available via Arizona Live Stats
- Twitter: Follow us at @AZDesertSwam. You can also follow our editor at @RKelapire and our reporter at @KimDoss71 for coverage during the game and throughout the season.