The University of Arizona women’s volleyball team has finally broken the pattern by beating rival Arizona State on the Sun Devils’ home court. For the last two seasons, the teams have split the two games they play each year, with the home team winning each time.
But last night’s straight-set victory over the Sun Devils in Tempe not only put the pressure on the Devils when the two teams meet again in Tucson, in the final game on the 2017 schedule, but it provides some momentum for the Wildcats with a solid win to open the Pac-12 campaign.
The 26-24, 25-18, 25-22 sweep also changes the dynamics from last year when the Wildcats’ Sept. 21 victory went four sets and ASU took five sets to pull off its win in late November.
Arizona is now 7-3 on the season and beginning to look like a program that has been collecting top-15 recruiting classes for the last three years: the No. 14 class nationally in 2015, No. 10 in 2016, and 12th-ranked this season.
That stockpiled talent was just too much for the Sun Devils this time, although two of the three sets went down to the wire. Arizona used the second set to set the tone for the match, leading the entire way after jumping out to a 3-0 lead.
But Arizona’s dominance at the net and solid serving helped pull the Cats through the other sets.
Jade Turner, ASU’s 6’4″ middle blocker, joined with junior outside hitter Kendra Dahlke to become the Devil killers. Dahlke led the attack with 12 kills and Turner added her 11, in addition to putting down a team-high six blocks. But is was the Devils who actually had one more kill as a team, 44-43.
However, the serving game made the real difference in this one. Arizona compiled a total seven service aces and only one error, tops in any match so far this season. By contrast, the Sun Devils had no aces and committed five errors.
“I told the team before the match that the winner would be the team that served the best,” said UofA head coach Dave Rubio, who is starting his 20th season at the helm of the program.”
“I thought we were aggressive early and it really helped our confidence throughout the match,” he added. “We won the match because of the way we served.”
ASU’s head coach, Sanja Tomasevic, was also concerned about that part of the game before the teams hit the court: “Before the match I talked about how the serve-receive was going to be the key for tonight’s match, but we did not pass well and did not serve well. So I’m not surprised with the outcome of the match.”
This is Tomasevic’s debut season after taking over the program last December. The Devils are off to a 10-3 start.
Arizona’s sophomore setter, Julia Peterson, accounted for two of her team’s seven serving aces, while also contributing 35 assists and seven digs.
ASU’s sophomore outside hitter, Ivana Jeremic, led the way for the Devils with 14 kills and senior libero Halle Harker had 21 digs, which gives her 1,654 for her career to rank third-best in program history. The 5’5″ Harker was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after ASU’s three straight road wins last weekend on a swing through Texas.
“That was a good one to win,”said Rubio after the ASU match. “It’s tough to win on the road, especially up here (Tempe).
“It’s always good to beat ASU.”
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)