Column: Arizona volleyball must step it up in second half of Pac-12 Conference play
It looked like Arizona volleyball was going to be a serious contender in the Pac-12 Conference after opening the season with eight straight wins. The Wildcats have struggled since their great start, though, going 6-8, including a 4-6 Pac-12 record.
The problem has not been that Arizona has been outmatched, it’s that the Wildcats have shown a consistent struggle to play their best in tight moments of matches.
Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio said at the beginning of the season that being able to play their best in the tough moments was essential if the Wildcats hoped to beat the tough competition; but so far, they have been unable to do so.
The frustration began in September—when Arizona was still 9-1—with a five set non-conference loss to No. 2 Texas.
The Wildcats took the fourth set of that match and a 2-0 lead in the fifth set, and it looked as though they had complete control of the match. However, the team became tentative, allowing Texas to dominate the rest of the set and match to come out on top.
Arizona had a 23-22 lead and a 13-12 lead in the fourth and fifth sets facing then No. 8 Stanford. The Wildcats were two points away from winning the match on two separate occasions. Arizona allowed Stanford to come back and close out the match.
It seemed that Arizona was waiting for Stanford to make a mistake instead of being aggressive and going for the win. A team may be able to get away with this tentative style of play against unranked opponents and in other conferences, but certainly not against Pac-12 and top-10 teams.
Arizona has also faced a number of four set losses against formidable opponents as well, including No. 14 ASU, No. 4 Washington and No. 1 USC.
Again, this trend shows that Arizona can compete and push elite teams, but cannot quite get over the hump and beat them. It almost becomes more of a mental game than a physical game when the team suffers gut-wrenching losses.
Arizona must forget about the frustrating first half and be mentally prepared and ready to step up to play its best when the tight moments come in the second half of Pac-12 play.
Arizona will get another shot at No. 7 Stanford on Friday night. This is an opportunity to start the second half with a huge victory, and to prove to the Pac-12 that it can in fact close out a match.
If the Wildcats are able to find a way to get over the hump and close out these elite teams that they have shown they can already fiercely compete with, Arizona won’t only be a contender in the Pac-12. The team will be a serious force in the NCAA Tournament.
Follow Brandon James on Twitter.