Sand volleyball travels to LA, again
Arizona sand volleyball looks to end its three-match losing streak as it heads out to the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, Calif., for the first-ever Pac-12 Invitational.
Six teams will be competing, including No. 1 USC (17-1), the host of the tournament. Losers from the first round may play back into a semifinal with duals later on. The Women of Troy have won 16 consecutive matches.
Arizona (6-8) first plays Cal Poly (1-7) at 9 a.m. on Saturday, but depending on the outcome against the Mustangs, the Wildcats may play two to four matches into the afternoon.
Pair competition will begin at 9 a.m. on Sunday. USC, Arizona, ASU and Cal State Bakersfield will compete in a 20-team, single-elimination bracket.
Junior Rachel Rhoades celebrates with a teammate. The sand volleyball team will participate in the first Pac-12 Invitational this weekend.
Arizona head coach Steve Walker said it would be the most volleyball his players will play in one weekend, but it’s a challenge that might pay its dividends down the road.
“It’s really good for us to get the most volleyball experience in now,” Walker said. “USC put this tournament on because it’s identical to the sand championship format we might be playing in at the end of our season.”
Arizona has lost eight of its last nine matches after starting the season 5-0, but the players, playing in the program’s inaugural season, are still upbeat in facing any level of competition.
“Last weekend was very difficult for us to compete in,” junior Ronni Lewis said, “but that opened our eyes on how good we need to be. That’s only going to make us work hard this week in practice to play again sooner.”
Setting was one fundamental Arizona focused on as it is still one of its biggest issues, especially when playing in Hermosa Beach, Calif., last weekend.
“It really takes a long time to be consistent in getting squared with the ball when playing in a different atmosphere,” junior Rachel Rhoades said of the deeper sand and heavier wind conditions Arizona had trouble adjusting to last weekend.
Arizona is not expected to play in the same conditions this time around, but Walker said the team still needs to address some issues that played a factor in all three of their last losses.
“Shot-making off less-than-perfect sets was one thing we could have done better in,” Walker said. “Our practices consisted of the side-out fundamentals, and that will help us do a better job passing off first contact and placement of the ball for shot-making to improve.”
Walker said the serving has improved week to week, and that will be a valuable asset the players can use against the upper level teams like USC.
“It’s always better to be more aggressive than to make the errors on our serving,” Rhoades said. “It will be a challenge, but our aggressive serving style can put the upper level teams out of system. Our first line of offense has to be our serving.”
—Follow Tyler Keckeisen @tyler_keckeisen