Sweep of No. 1 USC moves UA volleyball into nat’l rankings

The University of Arizona volleyball players have just one thing to say to the Pac-12 coaches that picked them to finish eighth in the conference this season… boo-yah!

Arizona just beat the No. 1 team in the country.  More than beat them – they swept the USC Trojans in three straight sets.

It was the first time in 20 years that the Wildcats toppled the top team in the country, and they pulled it off at McKale Center so that their fans could join them in savoring the huge upset.

Not only did they sweep USC, but they did the same thing to UCLA, the first time in 12 years they were able to take down both California schools in back-to-back matches.  It was UCLA that was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 back in 1993, the last time the Cats knocked off a No. 1-ranked team.

Apparently, when the Bruins are highly-ranked it gives Arizona some kind of extra motivation because last season the Cats swept them when they were ranked No. 5.

But the victory over USC (17-2, 7-1) is the first time Arizona (15-5, 5-3) has swept a No. 1 team.

And it was Madi Kingdon, the junior from Sunnyslope High School, that led the charge against the Trojans.  The 6’1″ outside hitter recorded a match-high 20 kills – half of them coming in the second set to help the Cats get out of an early 4-1 hole – and also added six digs.  And her service ace in that second set broke a 15-15 tie as Arizona went on from there to win it 25-21.

That body of work earned Kingdon the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honor.

But the opening set was even tighter, as the two teams battled to ties at 20, 23, and 25 before back-to-back kills by Halli Amaro, the sophomore middle blocker form California, enabled Arizona to pull out the 27-25 victory.

The Trojans also jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the final set, but Arizona clamped down defensively, holding USC to a .225 attack efficiency, and won 25-21.

Freshman setter Penina Snuka tied a Pac-12 mark when she collected 43 assists in the match, which equaled the most by any player in the conference during a three-set match this season.  She combined her 43 assists with 10 digs to give her 10 double-doubles this season – which leads the conference – and her play against the California schools earned her recognition as the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.

The defense was led by Jane Croson, a junior who is in her first year of play at Arizona, but has been seasoned with a couple of years of major-college ball after spending her first two years at the University of Hawaii.  The 5’11” outside hitter finished with a match-high 17 digs, while also contributing nine kills.

Thanks to the wins over UCLA and USC, Arizona was able to squeeze into the national rankings, entering this week at No. 25.  It’s the first national ranking since November of 2010 when the Cats earned a spot at No. 20.

At the start of the season, we referred to the Arizona program as the “sleeper’ team in the conference because we felt the polls were underestimating the potential of a young team that finished 2012 with a 16-15 record, but were returning six starters and 10 letter-winners.

Two months later, it looks like the youngsters have matured… and the sleeper has awakened.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)