Inaugural Arizona sand volleyball season was a good starting point
The Arizona sand volleyball team went 3-12 down the stretch.
However, given that it was the program’s first season, the Wildcats still posted a respectable 8-12 overall record.
“We endured lots of trials and tribulations when scratching and crawling to get a win,” head coach Steve Walker said after the Boise State victory last week. “Effort was typically there, and even when the circumstances were not in our favor, we always kept competing, with our skills getting a lot better each week.”
The bright spot is the nearly complete absence of seniors on this season’s roster, as the trials this season will enhance leadership for next season.
High points of the season
Arizona started the season 5-0 at home by staying disciplined with the sand fundamentals compared to the indoor game. Nine of the 13 players on the roster transitioned from the indoor game and had to adjust to the windy conditions, communication with only one teammate on the court compared to five and, of course, the treacherous sand.
Walker said his squad needed to make sure it was squared away with the serve-receive and side-out game when playing these games early, as the first-year head coach knew defense would be a struggle in the early going. The players did just that by controlling the game with a balanced offense and defeating Arizona Christian twice, as well as Grand Canyon, Tulane and their rival, ASU.
The Tulane victory was impressive since the Green Wave was in its third season of intercollegiate competition and finished 10th in the 2013 final American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll. The ASU victory was also a high point, although ASU beat Arizona in the two subsequent meetings.
Low points of the season
Walker said many times after games that it would be a learning process for his players when playing USC, Loyola Marymount, Long Beach State, Hawaii and Pepperdine, all ranked in the top 10 nationally.
That learning process came at a price, as the Wildcats failed to win any of their matches against those squads.
Walker said the players’ effort was there, but it was execution and finishing down the stretch when Arizona failed to get that key block or dig to steal a victory.
“For the most part, we put ourselves in a position to win the duel,” Walker said after losses to Nebraska and Grand Canyon University. “We just didn’t assert ourselves and put the teams away. It’s a lesson that isn’t a fun one to learn.”
That would be the theme during the low points of Arizona’s rough stretch in its last 15 matches, as it only defeated Irvine Valley College, Cal Poly and Boise State.
Walker said the players improved each week in many phases of the game, especially on their aggressive serving, which became Arizona’s bread and butter late in the season. But the players had trouble adjusting to their opponents’ style of play and were hampered by mental fatigue.
Heading into next season, Arizona brings in two highly-rated recruits, Hailey Devlin, a San Diego native, and Olivia Macdonald, who hails from Piopio, New Zealand. Both have had experience in the sand game, playing in international tournaments for their respective countries.
The additions will add depth to the program, as the team in the last three weeks of the season was without the service of some of its players, who were playing for the indoor team’s offseason games.
—Follow Tyler Keckeisen @tyler_keckeisen