Evidently, the University of Arizona volleyball team was using losses against three of the top five teams in the country as a learning experience – which helps when you’re putting four freshmen on the floor each match.
In the span of a week, the Wildcats took their lumps, losing to No. 4 California (3-0), No. 5 USC (3-0), and No. 6 Stanford (3-1) – but took the lessons learned against that top-tier talent and converted them into a stunning upset of No. 2 UCLA.
Saturday’s gritty play against the Bruins brought back memories of the 1993 victory over UCLA, which was the No. 1 team in the country at the time. That was the last time the Cats took down a top-2 program.
After Arizona took the first set, 25-21, the teams exchanged wins and the match went to a fifth set. The Wildcats put the pedal to the floor to go on a 7-2 run to close out the win, 15-12.
The final set was a fan’s delight, as the teams exchanged runs and the lead seesawed back and forth. The Cats opened the deciding set with a 4-0 run and the Bruins countered with a 6-0 run before a couple of kills by outside hitter Courtney Karst and a game-breaking block by the 6’1″ freshman middle blocker, Rachel Rhoades, propelled the Cats into their final run to victory.
“We played a lot better during the difficult moments,” said David Rubio, who is in his 20th year as the Arizona head coach. ” And that put us in a position to win.”
The loss is just the third this season for UCLA, which beat Arizona in both of their meetings last year.
To put the win in the proper perspective, not only was it an upset of the No. 2 team in the nation, but it marks the first time the Cats have been able to take down the Trojans since November of 2005.
A local high school standout, Madi Kingdon, led the charge this time. The freshman from Sunnyslope High School recorded her fifth double-double of the season and led the team in digs for the 12th time. She had 16 kills and 11 digs.
The 6’1″ outside hitter wasn’t the only one on the floor for the Cats that was having success with an aggressive attack. A pair of seniors also stepped up to the net, as Karst posted 13 kills and Cursty Jackson added 13 more.
With the grueling four-match stand against the California powers behind them, the Wildcats (11-6, 3-5) will get a cool respite next with a trip to the high country. They will play Colorado Friday night and then slide over to Salt Lake City for a Saturday meeting with Utah.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)