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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA volleyball takes down rival ASU in conference opener

Jesus Barrera / The Daily Wildcat

Arizona came out in dressed in white Wednesday night to host a blacked out ASU team in the first conference game of the season. The Wildcats were without one of their leaders, outside hitter Kalei Mau, who’s suffering from a back injury, but prevailed over their rivals in a 3-1 victory.

Both crowds supported their team throughout the rallies with “A-S-U” being chanted with every contact on the Sun Devil’s side, and Arizona coming back with their own “U-of-A” chant.

In this loud, energetic environment, the match kicked off to a tight battle between the Arizonan schools.

The Wildcats jumped out to an early 9-5 lead with outside hitters Kendra Dahlke and Katarina Pilepic leading on offense, but the team’s play was overall unorganized. Unforced errors started to become prominent in the Wildcat’s game and would become a theme throughout the match.

After an ASU timeout at 9-5, middle blocker McKenzie Jacobson and setter Penina Snuka each single-handedly helped the team pull away from the approaching Sun Devils with two big one-handed wins on jousts.

With the lead stretched 15-9, Arizona went on a long rally with two outstanding digs by Snuka and libero Laura Larson which ended with a tool to get the crowd rallied up.

While Arizona maintained the lead for the match, they started to struggle late with unforced errors, cutting their lead to 21-19 and forcing Head Coach David Rubio to call a timeout.

ASU fought back to a score of 24-22, but on the final point Snuka served off the ball to start a rally that ended with an “over” call on ASU’s Jasmine Koonts.

In the first set, Arizona held the Sun Devils to a .135 hitting percentage with Larson leading the defense with seven digs.

The second set started exactly as one would expect—the swim team showed up donning speedos with “Wildcats” spelled out on their chests, cheering in the front row.

The distraction was a little much for Arizona, though, who kicked off the set with three service errors in the first eight points.

Arizona and ASU battled it out from there, with neither team able to pull out to greater than a three-point lead.

Outide hitter Tyler Spriggs impressed in the second set by scoring three of the team’s first twelve points, but the rest of the team’s errors kept ASU in a tight match.

Problems such as hitting errors, service errors, overpasses and balls dropping plagued Arizona to the point of going down 14-17 in the set and forced Rubio to call back-to-back timeouts.

Cool, calm and collected during their talks, Rubio couldn’t ignite a fire in the girls and they fell 25-19 in the second set.

With all the errors, Arizona’s team hitting percentage dropped from .297 to .141 after the set.

The Wildcats seemed like they were going to dominate in third set when they jumped out to a 11-5 lead, but the momentum changed quickly as ASU battled back to a 13-13 tie.

The match continued as a tight battle while the crowd attempted to pump up their team through a series of cheers, but it wasn’t till the end of the match that the Wildcats put away the Sun Devils with a 25-23 victory.

During the third, Arizona bounced back on offensive by hitting .306 with 16 kills. Dahlke lead the team with five.

A fourth match gave the Wildcats a chance to show what school owns the state, and they did just that.

Snuka, who had been quiet for the match, finally got going and reached 49 assists on the night. Her block was dominant and her defense stellar. Plus, ASU’s setter failed to give Snuka credit and kept setting the outside hitter who was continuously roofed by number 20.

The Wildcat’s got scrappy on defense like they were in the first set, and behind Snuka, pushed out to a 15-8 lead. Snuka was definitely feeling it in this match. With emphatic cheers and gestures, she lit up her teammates and the crowd.

Through Snuka and the defense, the offense went off and the crowd’s cheering gave Arizona all the momentum to cruise to a 25-18 win, taking the match.

Following the match, Rubio raved about the setter’s ability to lead the team in the face of adversity. “She’s one of the most special athletes I’ve ever coached and her brain might be her best asset,” said Rubio.

Dahlke had a career high 22 kills in the match and was followed by Pilepic and Spriggs who also recorded double digit kills on the night.

“Our focus was to get other hitters caught up to speed,” said Dahkle on how the team adjusted without Mau. “[We needed to] be prepared to make adjustments on the fly.”

Beating ASU is the best way for the Wildcats to open up the season, but conference play isn’t getting any easier from here.

“We’re a little undermanned right now,” Rubio said looking forward to the rest of the season.

Specifically, for the next matchup against Colorado, Rubio said, “Colorado is a little bit of a miss match for us.”

Physicality is a concern for next week’s matchup, but Rubio knows his team has the talent to play at the Buff’s level.

Follow Nikki Baim on Twitter. 

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