Arizona sand volleyball debuts with three victories
Arizona sand volleyball enjoyed a perfect debut, winning all three matches in its opening weekend at the Arizona Invitational tournament.
Head coach Steve Walker said he was not surprised because the freshmen indoor players performed well in the fall.
“[The freshmen] were doing a great job for them,” Walker said, “but we were selective [about who] we pulled from the indoor team because we wanted good players that would bring good character to the team, and that would work extremely hard to get the job done.”
The Wildcats beat Arizona Christian 5-0 in their first ever match on Friday, then on Saturday they beat Grand Canyon 3-2 and ASU 4-1.
Junior Rachel Rhoades dives for the ball during Arizona's 3-2 win over Grand Canyon University at the Arizona Sand Volleyball Courts on Saturday. The team of Rhoades and junior Ronnie Lewis (1) broke the 2-2 tie by winning their match.
Walker said Arizona’s passing and setting paid off.
“It was really about being selective [in tactics],” Walker said. “We wanted to make sure we were putting the serve on the right [weaker] player of the two. From a strategy standpoint, though, it comes down to our execution on our side of the net of controlling the ball.”
Despite the wind picking up late into the afternoon on Saturday, that efficient setting played to Arizona’s strength in all three victories.
“We stayed calm for most of the time and squared up with the ball to stay consistent,” junior Rachel Rhoades said. “That is very essential when you are out here on the sand and adjusting to the wind.”
Junior Ronni Lewis said the Wildcats’ serving helped them come back when they were down.
The Wildcats only found themselves down a couple of times throughout the tournament as they only lost nine of 32 sets the whole weekend.
Grand Canyon was the only team in the tournament not making its inaugural debut.
After both teams split their four matches, it came down to Arizona’s No. 3 team (Rhoades-Lewis) versus GCU’s No. 3 team (Alex Goodman-Kaitlyn Ausmus).
GCU was at a 14-13 match point, but Rhoades and Lewis would rally with three straight points.
“I just turned to Rachel and said, ‘Hey, you and me stay together and take care of our side and it will fall into place,’” Lewis said. “It did for the most part, and we got the win.”
Arizona freshman Penina Snuka and junior Allie Cook received honors for the Arizona Invitational All-Tournament Team.
Walker said she was happy with the attendance for Saturday’s slate of matches.
“I was really happy for the fans, the community and our department,” Walker said. “I think we put on a great presentation and showed that making sand volleyball the 20th sport was the right choice. I couldn’t be happier. We were looking for a fun festive atmosphere, and I think we hit it right on the head.”
—Follow Tyler Keckeisen @tyler_keckeisen