Sand volleyball nearly takes down Nebraska

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Jordan Glenn | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona sand volleyball senior Madi Kingdon (45) spikes the ball during Arizona's 5-0 victory over Cal State Northridge on Saturday at Jimenez Field. Kingdon and the Wildcats went 2-1 over the weekend, narrowly losing to Nebraska for the team's first loss of the season.

Arizona sand volleyball hosted its Wildcat Spring Challenge in Tucson this weekend. The two-day tournament included the Wildcats, along with Boise State, Nebraska and Cal State Northridge.

The Wildcats started the tournament on Friday against Boise State and dominated en route to a 5-0 win over the Broncos.

The Wildcats took on the Nebraska Cornhuskers to kick off day two of the tournament. The Wildcats announced Sarah Koenig as their honorary team captain for the meet.

Koenig met the Wildcats during one of the team’s visits to Diamond Children’s in the University of Arizona Medical Center. Koenig developed a bond with the team, being a former volleyball player herself, and was excited to be named the honorary captain and get the chance to spend the day at the courts watching the Wildcats.

“It’s hard, since I used to play,” Koenig said. “I just want to get out there and hit the ball. But it means a lot to me that they wanted me to do this. The team is so open and so nice.”

The Wildcats shared Koenig’s excitement. Madison and McKenna Witt remembered meeting Koenig in the hospital and said they had never connected with a patient who they had visited the way they connected with Koenig.

“She made a huge imprint on our hearts,” the Witt sisters said. “Definitely more than we ever gave to her; I think that she gave us an experience more than anything. She is such a special person, and we are so glad she came today.”

Under the watch of their new captain, the Wildcats put it all on the line in what some fans described as the most entertaining game this season. Unfortunately for Arizona, the game ended with the Wildcats picking up their first loss of the season as the Huskers came out with a 3-2 win over the Wildcats.

The Witt twins won their match in three sets. Nebraska took the first set, 21-17, before the twins pulled out 22-20, 15-7 wins in the last two sets to secure their victory over the Huskers.

Rachel Rhoades and Kendall Polan were not as fortunate, as they lost to the Huskers in three sets.

Taylor Arizobal and Allie Cook were also defeated by Nebraska, losing both of their sets against the Huskers 21-11, 21-14. Sarah Seiber and Hailey Devlin pulled out a win over the Huskers 21-18, 21-13.

With Arizona and Boise State tied at 2-2, it all came down to the No. 1 teams to decide the winner.

Madi Kingdon and Kaitlyn Leary fell to the Huskers in the first set 21-17 but came back to defeat Nebraska 21-15 in the second set.

Kingdon and Leary lost an exciting third set, 15-12, to Nebraska’s No. 1 team that secured the Huskers’ win over the Wildcats.

“The block was a lot bigger than we are used to seeing,” Kingdon said. “Not being able to shoot when we’re used to hitting, so shooting is something we need to work on more.”

Arizona coach Steve Walker said the loss was a reflection of Arizona playing the other team’s brand and style of volleyball, which he says will be a message to the team moving forward.

The day was not over yet for the Wildcats, who faced off against Cal State Northridge later on Saturday. The dominance Arizona has shown most of this season returned, as they took down the Matadors 5-0.

The crowd at the courts was loud and large throughout the tournament. Several players said the home atmosphere in Tucson is the best to play in front of. The community involvement appears to be increasing, with every game drawing a larger crowd.

“We have the best kept secret in Tucson going, and we have an outstanding venue,” Walker said. “Every visiting team that comes is envious of what we have, and I think slowly but surely our crowds are getting a little bit better. I definitely want to see that trend continue.”

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