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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Beach volleyball sweeps Wildcat Challenge

Rebecca Noble
Defender Brooke Burling (31) watches the game winning point fall just out of reach during Arizona’s 4-1 win against New Mexico at Bear Down Beach on Friday, March 31, 2017.

After dropping to No. 8 in the AP poll last week, things are looking up for Arizona beach volleyball as the team went undefeated in the Wildcat Spring Challenge this weekend.

The Wildcats played New Mexico, Santa Clara, CSU Bakersfield and No. 13 GCU over two days.

The spring tournament rang in with four straight victories over New Mexico, but the last match wasn’t a breeze for Arizona’s fifth team of Halli Amaro and Brooke Burling. The duo lost in three sets, but were cheered on by their teammates throughout the battle who had gathered around the match.

A similar scene unraveled during the Santa Clara match when Olivia Hallaran and Olivia Macdonald went to a third set and saw their teammates gather around the match to encourage them on. They lost, but Arizona prevailed overall 4-1.

“It’s always hard to lose, especially in the first set,” Macdonald said. “It’s just the little things like not hitting in the right spot. When you go into the second set, you always have a different mindset. We’ve got the physical ability. We give each other positive feedback every single ball.”

Day two started with a 4-0 sweep of CSU Bakersfield. Due to injury, Bakersfield’s fifth pair forfeited, which postponed Burling and Amero’s chance to make a redeeming effort after their loss in the New Mexico match.

GCU was Arizona’s most anticipated opponent of the weekend, and the match lived up to the hype.

“I’m looking forward to GCU,” Macdonald said on Friday. “They really want to beat us and that gets me going. I just get so competitive [when] people are talking bad about us, I’m like, ‘bring it.’ I’m super excited it’s going to be awesome.”

Three of the Wildcats pairs took the Lopes to an extra set, and only Kendra Dahlke and Mia Mason didn’t come out on top. Third sets provide an extra challenge for the Wildcats, and Arizona head coach Steve Walker doesn’t think they’re a sign of weakness.

“Any experience is good experience,” Walker said. “For Halli and Brooke, the duel itself was clinched, but I liked that we played as though it wasn’t. To be able to go through and play through the third set, it only good experience for later.”

Buring and Amero struggled against GCU early, but through their aggression and Walker’s advisement, they finished strong in the third set to win 19-21, 25-23, 15-9.

Madison and Mckenna Witt finished their weekend sweep with a close battle against GCU’S Olivia Unnasch and Molly Turner. The prevailed 21-19, 22-21 and finished the match with an emphatic kill and tight hug between the sisters.

This tournament had two themes for Walker and the Wildcats. The first of which was putting out a team that epitomized unity. Tyler Spriggs, an athlete who wasn’t playing this weekend, was the loudest Wildcat on the sideline. Singing, dancing and yelling in support of her teammates inspired everyone to have more fun on the sand.

“Tyler’s been a model teammate,” Walker said. “She’s someone that shows up every day, works really hard. That kind of attitude is contagious. I see that happening among all our players.”

Hallaran, who enjoyed her teammates’ cheers through two competitive third sets this weekend, loves the support.

“It super encouraging,” she said. “They’re always encouraging us to be the best we can be. It’s super fun anytime we can get out in the sun and the sand.”

Secondly, at the tournament all five pairs were playing at the same time. This made it difficult for the coaching staff to monitor all the matches, but is forward thinking on behalf of the program.

“This is the exact format that’s used at the NCAA Championships,” Walker said. “It takes some adjusting to, simply because you can’t spread out three coaches on five courts, so we really have to prioritize where we place our coaches, but it’s something I give our administration so much credit for.”

The other tournament participants finished their weekends at 2-1 for GCU, 2-1 for New Mexico, 0-3 for Santa Clara and 0-3 for CSU Bakersfield.

Next week, the Wildcats will participate at the UCLA Invite for four matches against Concordia College, No. 6 Long Beach State, Washington and No. 3 UCLA.

Follow Nikki Baim on Twitter

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