The Arizona State women’s volleyball team will close out the 2016 season on Senior Night tomorrow against rival University of Arizona. If the Sun Devils have anywhere near the success that the Wildcats enjoyed in their salute to seniors on Wednesday, they will be able to say goodbye with smiles on their faces.
Arizona beat No. 17 Utah in Wednesday’s Pac-12 game, marking the seventh time this season the Cats have beaten a ranked team.
Going into the Territorial Cup match-up with ASU tomorrow afternoon, Arizona’s graduating group of five seniors have already become the winningest class since 2003, notching 81 wins over their careers, and will be looking at their fourth consecutive berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Out of that group, one player has just reserved a place in the UofA record books by contributing 52 assists in the Utah victory. Penina Snuka, the former Gilbert High School standout, became just the second UofA player all-time to record 5,000 career assists.
The 52-assist performance against Utah comes close to her season-high of 60 just two weeks ago against Washington State. The 5’6″ setter was also sporting a .232 hitting percentage going into the game against the Utes.
One of the most durable performers throughout her Wildcat career, Snuka, who spent her senior year in high school in Hawaii before being recruited to play in Tucson, has never played fewer than 114 sets in a season. The last two seasons have brought All-Region and All-Pac 12 first-team honors.
But the upset win over Utah was the work of a combined effort by the senior core. Outside hitter Kalei Mau led the team with 21 kills and tied a career high with three aces, libero/defensive specialist Laura Larson added 21 digs, outside hitter Katarina Pilepic chipped in a .333 hitting percentage that included nine kills, and libero McKenna Painton had 10 digs to post her seventh double-digit digs total of the season.
ASU will graduate just three seniors from a squad that is 11-20 overall and 4-15 in Pac-12 play. The trio includes one local athlete, libero Mia Mazon from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, and a couple of outside hitters, Cassidy Pickrell from Texas and Maya McClendon from Kentucky.
Arizona (18-13, 10-9) is finishing up the month of November with four wins out of seven outings, while the Sun Devils have won just two games during that same period, but those two were back-to-back wins coming into this weekend, so they have a little momentum.
Last year, ASU won the first meeting with the Wildcats, 3-1, but Arizona came back to win the season-ending contest by the same 3-1 score. This year, Arizona won the only other game the two teams played, a 3-1 victory in late September.
Arizona finished the 2015 campaign with an almost identical record to this season: 19-14, 9-11. That trip into the post-season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when they were beaten by Western Kentucky in straight sets.
This core group of seniors is now more experienced and have had a year to reflect on that early exit. They have one more chance to shape a better ending to their final season.
But first, their hated rival to the north awaits – with revenge on their minds.
(Photo: UA Athletics)