Wildcats fall to No. 1 USC at McKale Center in four sets
Arizona volleyball gave its all against the No. 1 team in the nation. But yet again, it just wasn’t enough―the Wildcats fell in four sets.
It initially seemed as though USC would easily win, as the Trojans breezed through the first set 25-14. It was a sloppy set for Arizona, full of service faults and errors.
Kalei Mau struggled in the first set, committing many of the errors and faults.
“When I first started I was being really overly aggressive,” Mau said. “I think, mainly, I just needed to get back into my rhythm and just do what I do best.”
Though they struggled in the first set, Mau and the Wildcats would play much better in the second.
“Where we are in the match and where we are in the game has no relevance on how we’re going to execute on the next play,” Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio told his team after the first set. “It’s all about trying to execute on your touch of the ball, and if you do that then we’ll put ourselves in a position to win the game or win the set.”
Arizona would follow Rubio’s words, storming out to a 7-1 lead in the second set. They had kills from Kendra Dahlke, Tyler Spriggs and Mau, blocks from Halli Amaro and an ace by Penina Snuka.
USC would come back, however, and eventually claim the second set 25-22.
Although Arizona did not win the set, it showed USC that it would be a tightly contested match.
Arizona started out the third set strong, jumping out to a 10-4 lead. Dahlke, Amaro and Mau all had kills and impressive blocks, and Laura Larson and Snuka hit some quality serves. USC would cut the lead to 10-8, but the Wildcats would not let their opponents take control.
Mau immediately responded to USC's four-point run with a kill, and though the Trojans kept the score close and even took the lead at 16-15, the Wildcats consistently came up with big plays to stop them from running away with the match.
The score was tied at 20-20, and Amaro came up with two clutch blocks in a row to put Arizona up by two. Mau then put it in her own hands to close out the set, coming up with three kills in a row to give her team the third set.
The fourth set would start off very tight, with neither team able to take a commanding lead. Arizona had the lead at 4-3 and 8-7 but were unable to maintain it. When up 8-7, Arizona slumped and lost eight of the next nine points, allowing USC to go up 15-9.
Arizona would try to come back and even trimmed the lead down to two at 22-20.
In the crucial point of the match, Arizona surrendered three points in a row, giving USC the win in four sets.
“We certainly put ourselves in a position to have a different type of outcome, but we've got to play better when it counts and we didn’t,” Rubio said.
Although Rubio wished the matches had a different outcome, he said he felt good about how his team played against the No. 1 team in the country. He said he was specifically impressed with how Mau improved after struggling at the beginning, as well as how Spriggs and Dahlke played.
Rubio also said it was the first match in a while where he felt his team really played together, and he felt they did not overthink the game.
Now the Wildcats will have to prepare for No. 11 UCLA, which they face Sunday at noon in McKale Center.
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