A dozen Arizona State athletes and a couple of coaches packed up their gear yesterday and headed to the beach.
Not the picturesque beaches of nearby California. This trip was down the I-10 to Bear Down Beach in Tucson, located just across the street from McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus. And this was no recreational outing; this trip was all business for the Sun Devils’ sand volleyball team.
The sun shone brightly and the temperatures hovered in the mid-eighties. But the Devils got a cold reception from their host, as the No. 7-ranked Wildcats rolled up a 4-1 victory in front of a record crowd of 563 fans that are beginning to warm to the idea of this new college sport.
Arizona added sand volleyball as a women’s varsity sport in January of 2013, becoming just the fifth Pac-12 school to include the sport. It was the first new sport to be added to the UofA line-up since 1998 when women’s track & field joined the fold.
Six months later, Arizona State jumped on the band wagon to expand its list of sports offerings to 22. Grand Canyon University, which is transitioning to Division I, added sand volleyball shortly before UofA made the commitment. That leaves Northern Arizona University as the only D-I college in the state still to join the party.
The Wildcats finished last season at No. 9 nationally and began this season with that rank in a sport that is still building a foundation across the country. This season is the first that women’s sand/beach volleyball is being recognized as an NCAA Championship sport, with the inaugural championships scheduled for the first week in May.
The Sand Cats came into yesterday’s match with ASU with a full head of steam after going 3-0 at the Tulane Pelican Classic in New Orleans to up their record to 14-3, while ASU was able to celebrate nine wins after winning two of its four matches at the Stanford Tournament, the best win total since its inception.
But Arizona has been impossible to beat when playing at home this season. This was their final match at Bear Down Beach and the win brought their home record to a perfect 8-0.
They won four of the matches in straight sets, with the battle between No. 1 teams going three sets to provide some excitement to the day’s matches. Arizona’s No. 1 team of Madison and McKenna Witt defeated ASU’s Bianca Arellano and Whitney Follette, 14-21, 21-15, 22-20.
ASU’s lone win came between the No. 4 duos, with Jourdan Parnell and Bethany Wedepohl sweeping Mia Mason and Kalei Mau, 21-13, 25-23.
The win gives Arizona half of the Territorial Cup point. The other half will be determined when the two teams meet again on April 20 at the PERA Club in Tempe, which the Sun Devils use as their home court.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)