Arizona volleyball faces improved ASU squad
Arizona indoor volleyball will open Pac-12 Conference play on the road against possibly the best ASU team in years.
This past weekend, the UA (10-2) won all three matches in the Wildcat Classic tournament. Now, the Wildcats turn their attention to the challenge of conference play. The match will be at 8 p.m. and broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.
Head coach Dave Rubio said that he thinks this year’s ASU team is the best they have had since he became the head coach of the Wildcats 21 years ago. The No. 16 Sun Devils (11-1) have dominated their opponents so far this season, and in the 11 matches they have won, they haven’t lost a single set.
This match will be something of a homecoming for a few of the Wildcats, as junior outside hitter Madi Kingdon and freshman setter Penina Snuka are both from the Phoenix area. Kingdon was recently named Pac-12 offensive player of the week and Snuka was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.
Rebecca Marie Sasnett / The Daily Wildcat Penina Snuka practices before the match against Loyola Maryland on Friday.
This season, Kingdon leads the team with 182 kills and Snuka has 443 assists, 96 digs — which is fourth on the team — and 20 blocks. Kingdon said she knows the Sun Devils will be a tough task.
“Their team looks pretty good this year,” Kingdon said. “Macey Gardner is a good hitter. I’ve been against her since I was in club, so I’ve known her for a while … but if we scout them right, I think we will be able to beat them.”
Outside hitter Gardner has 168 kills this year, followed by freshman outside hitter BreElle Bailey with 107 kills. Freshman setter Bianca Arellano leads the team with 415 assists and senior libero Stephanie Preach has the most digs on the team with 176.
Senior libero Candace Nicholson leads the Wildcats with 183 digs on the season, and in the last match against UC Santa Barbara, she set the UA all-time record for most career digs.
“ASU is one of those teams that always has a lot of energy and that always keeps them in the game,” Nicholson said. “They’re really scrappy, similar to Santa Barbara.”
After four weekends of multi-team tournaments, Arizona shifts to the one- match-a-day schedule of the Pac-12.
“It’s a little bit harder for sure. I have two days to prepare for ASU. For Santa Barbara, I had three hours. So it’s a little bit harder, but the bottom line is you still have to execute,” Rubio said after Saturday’s match against UC Santa Barbara.
Last season, the rivals split the season series, with each team winning 3-1 at home. Arizona has a narrow 42-40 lead in the all-time series.
— Follow Derek Evans @DerekEvans20