Sand volleyball struggles at GCU
Arizona sand volleyball lost two close matches against Grand Canyon University and Nebraska in Phoenix on Friday.
The Wildcats (5-4) have dropped four straight matches after winning their first five matches.
Whether it was a key block, kill or dig to decide the last point, Arizona came up short in the final game of a three-set match of dual play.
“Not putting the finishing touches on the match points was the difference maker,” head coach Steve Walker said. “We got a little rushed and ahead of ourselves as we made a few too many unforced errors.”
Arizona lost 3-2 to Grand Canyon in its first match. The Wildcats won the first match at the No. 5 position, but then dropped two straight matches. The junior duo of Madi Kingdon and Jane Croson, playing at No. 2 instead of the No. 1 position, won the fourth match to tie score at 2-2.
Walker said the change was in the best interest of the Wildcats, as he put the Witt twins at the No. 1 position instead.
“We wanted to play the matchup game,” Walker said. “I’m not going to say gamesmanship, but a lot of the strategy has to do with which duo has the advantage as we thought it would help us get a team victory.”
Freshmen McKenna Witt and Madison Witt lost 21-11, 21-16 in the No. 1 spot.
Arizona’s team of freshman Penina Snuka and junior Allie Cook lost the deciding fifth match 2-1.
Arizona played Nebraska right after and lost by the same score: 3-2.
Walker said playing back-to-back matches did not affect the way his players performed.
“Playing on short breaks is going to happen time to time as many teams prefer it,” Walker said. “When you advance in postseason play, you are going to have to play right away. I think it can give our team a good rhythm and great conditioning, so it’s good all around.”
After the Wildcats dropped their first two matches, Kingdon, Croson and the Witt twins easily won the team’s next two in four straight sets and set up another deciding fifth match.
UA juniors Ronni Lewis and Taylor Arizabal, at the No. 3 position, lost 27-25, 13-21, 22-20.
“We honestly had Nebraska dead to right and felt we left something out there,” Walker said. “It was no fault of our team’s effort as we put ourselves in a position to win by passing, setting, serving well and being smart offensively in the side-out game.”
Arizona has lost four team matches in a row, but Walker said he is pleased the way his team responded to top competition again after losing two against USC and Hawaii last weekend.
“It’s just going to take a little bit longer for our defense to catch up with other teams that have been playing this game for a long time,” Walker said. “I really liked how they competed overall today.”
The lone bright spot over the weekend for Arizona came in pairs competition. The duo of Kingdon and Croson advanced to the finals and lost 22-20, 21-12, 15-7 to Grand Canyon’s duo of Kelli Dallmann and Mackenzie Phelps.
In the consolation bracket, Arizona’s senior Emily Kiser and Cook defeated Grand Canyon’s Kaylee Dombroski and Brooke Razo, 21-17, 21-17.
—Follow Tyler Keckeisen @tyler_keckeisen