Even if you’re not an avid fan of college volleyball, you couldn’t help but get caught up in the intensity and excitement of yesterday’s rivalry match between Arizona State and University of Arizona.
Thousands of people had already figured that out when the Pac-12 match-up rolled around on the calendar and they recognized that the stage had been set for a meeting between two ranked teams that featured some of the best players in the conference.
It was a noisy, raucous crowd of 3,547 fans at Arizona’s McKale Center, most of whom were wearing bright red in support of their No. 18-ranked Wildcats. For the first time in 12 years, both teams came into the contest with a top 25 national ranking. The Sun Devils were sitting on the rung below, at No. 19.
And it was the Devils that struck first when 6’3″ middle blocker Mercedes Binns punched the final point of the first set through a couple of Arizona defenders at the net to clinch a 25-21 win in the best-of-five match. ASU looked in control at that point, as Macey Gardner led the way with five kills and a .714 hitting percentage.
The junior outside hitter from Gilbert High School would go on to have a career night, notching 30 kills in a thrilling match that wasn’t decided until Arizona put the lid on the victory in the fifth set. She also had 15 digs to record her fiith double-double of the season.
That first set belonged to ASU, but the rest of the way was a roller-coaster ride for both teams – one shift in momentum after another. And the sea of red in the stands responded to every peak and valley.
And the second set, too, looked like it was going the same way as the Sun Devils jumped out to a 3-1 lead early, built it to 12-7, and held that margin until late in the set when the Cats climbed back into it by taking the lead at 22-21 and going on to even things with a 25-22 victory.
Now the momentum had shifted and it was Arizona’s turn to ride it into the third set, taking an early lead and holding it through to the 25-21 finale as senior outside hitter Taylor Arizobal spiked home the deciding point.
Then things got really tight in the fourth set, as no more than two points separated the teams until Arizona went up 13-10 and then began pulling away at 20-16. But the tide turned all of a sudden for the Devils and, thanks to five kills by Gardner, they knotted the score at 24-24 and eventually rallied for a 27-25 win on a resounding kill by Gardner.
The fifth and deciding set, played to an abbreviated score of 15, proved to be the icing on the cake. ASU stepped out to a 7-4 lead, but the Cats tied it up at 7-7 and, from there on out, the teams exchanged the lead going all the way down the stretch to 13-13 before Arizona pulled out the 15-13 win on a defining kill by junior middle blocker Halli Amaro.
Set, match…and bragging rights.
Amaro finished with 12 kills on 20 attempts, while Ashley Harris led the way with a career-high 19 kills. The 6’8″ Harris more than doubled her previous single-match total.
Also having a career night was Penina Snuka. The sophomore server contributed 60 assists, while also recording 18 digs for her 10th double-double on the season. And Ronni Lewis, the senior libero, chipped in a career-high 25 digs.
For ASU, junior server Bianca Arellano from Xavier Prep in Phoenix had a career-high 61 assists. Her 14 digs gave her a fifth double-double.
ASU drops to 10-3 with the loss, which was the conference opener for both teams, while Arizona moves to 12-1.
Both teams will need to dig deep again for their next opponents. Arizona will have to go on the road tomorrow to take on No. 20 UCLA, while ASU must recover from this loss and be ready for No. 9 USC at Galen Center.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)