Arizona sand volleyball loses to defending champs
On Friday, Arizona sand volleyball lost 4-1 to the defending national champion, No. 5 Long Beach State (6-4), before ending its five-match losing skid with a 5-0 sweep over Irvine Valley College.
In Irvine, Calif., in their loss to LBSU, the Wildcats dropped three straight matches before Arizona junior Allie Cook and freshman Penina Snuka defeated Joy Miley and Makayla Taylor of LBSU, 21-17, 21-15.
Despite only winning one match, Arizona head coach Steve Walker said his players played very well in three out of the five contests against LBSU. Rather then being defeated, Walker added, they simply ran out of time and points.
“When the game is played at the highest level, the best teams and most experienced players play with great poise when falling behind,” Walker said. “I thought we did that much better [against LBSU], as our players believed in their ability to turn a match on its head at some point.”
Playing against defending champions who have many returning players can be a daunting challenge, but Walker didn’t think the Wildcats, playing their first season of NCAA sand volleyball, were intimidated.
“I didn’t sense the kind of anxiety playing LBSU that maybe the players felt heading into the matches against USC and Hawaii,” Walker said. “I really liked our approach this past weekend, as we had good focus from the opening serve.”
Arizona (6-5) failed to exploit its opponents’ weaknesses last weekend, resulting in two close defeats. But Walker said his players did a better job on Friday by recognizing the 49ers’ flaws and not playing into their strengths.
“Entering the match against LBSU, we knew they played a very sound side-out game,” Walker said. “That strength can dictate how they control their opponents’ serves and make for an easy point in the side-out game. We recognized that by starting to take more chances with our serve, and that certainly helped draw us closer.”
Walker said he was very pleased with Cook and Snuka, as they were the lone duos to come away undefeated at 2-0.
“In the process they really made some terrific in-game adjustments with defensive positioning and shot-making of their own,” Walker said. “They played together as a very steady and consistent tandem.”
After the loss to LBSU, the Wildcats beat Irvine Valley College 5-0. It was a sort of homecoming for Cook, who played her first two seasons at the community college.
“Following this weekend’s play, I told the team that we’ve reached a point where I feel we can compete and beat any mid-level program,” Walker said, “but I still want to make another jump this season and not wait for the next, and that jump begins with our approach in practice every single day.”
Arizona will play in the two-day USA Volleyball Invitational in Los Angeles on Saturday.
—Follow Tyler Keckeisen @Tyler_Keckeisen