Wildcats topple No. 11 UCLA, upset Bruins in five-set affair

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Victoria Pereira | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona volleyball players regroup during downtime to celebrate and plan their next play in McKale Center on Sunday, Nov. 22. Arizona upset No. 11 UCLA in five sets.

Arizona was finally able to pull out a victory against a top ranked opponent, defeating No. 11 UCLA in five sets in McKale Center on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s certainly nice to beat a ranked team,” Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio said. “Today was a little hard for us, but we found a way to get it done.”

The first set started off with UCLA in control, but No. 23 Arizona kept it close. Arizona was able to pull away at the end with the help of kills from Kalei Mau (19), Tyler Spriggs (18) and Nikki Attea (23), and blocking from Halli Amaro (6), Penina Snuka (5), McKenzie Jacobson (5) and Attea (4). Attea closed out the set with a kill and a block, as Arizona won 25-22.

It looked like UCLA was going to roll through the second set, having an early 9-4 lead and maintaining it throughout the second set. Up 22-17, it looked like the Bruins had the set wrapped up, but Arizona was not done.

“What we’ve been working on in practice is coming back and no matter where we are, just keep playing and getting every ball,” libero Laura Larson said. Larson, one of the team leaders, said she kept telling her team to keep fighting and not let up to be defeated during the comeback.

Spriggs began the comeback with a kill, before UCLA made an error to bring the score to 22-19. UCLA won the next point to go up 23-19, but Attea came back with a kill, a pivotal block along with Amaro and then another kill to cut the Bruins’ lead to one.

UCLA still found a way to set point, but Jacobson made a block to tie it at 24. Arizona and UCLA would exchange points until it was 27-27, but Arizona was finally able to string two points together to take the set 29-27.

The Bruins started the third set with the lead again, but Arizona was able to cut it down. UCLA had a 22-18 lead, but the Wildcats strung together three points in a row to cut it to one. UCLA would still manage to have two set points at 24-22, but Arizona fought them both off.

Thanks to a UCLA error, Arizona had a match point and looked poised to sweep the Bruins. However, after UCLA called a timeout, Arizona could not get the final point and allowed UCLA to win three points in a row to take the set 27-25.

“You [have] got to be able to execute when the moments are the biggest, and they did and we didn’t,” Rubio said. “Sometimes we’re the biggest opponent and we just mentally need to be a little bit better.”

Arizona still was able to jump out to a 12-7 lead in the fourth, but the Wildcats slowly let UCLA take control. The Bruins eventually took the lead and went on to win the fourth set 25-21.

Though Arizona had struggled in key moments of matches all year against top ranked teams and earlier in the match, the Wildcats overcame those demons in the fifth set. Arizona claimed four points in a row to go up 5-2 after UCLA jumped out to an early lead. The Wildcats remained in control from this point on, with kills from Amaro, Mau and Spriggs, and strong defense and passing from Larson and Snuka.

Up 10-8, Attea took matters into her own hands to close the match, coming up with kills to give her team 11-8 and 13-8 leads. UCLA won two points to make the score 13-10 and after Rubio called a timeout, Attea came up with a critical dig and kill to give her team a match point. UCLA made an error on the next point, giving the Wildcats the set 15-10 and the match 3-2.

“I’m glad I was able to be in that position to help my team,” Attea said. “For our team to put ourselves in that position to win the fifth set showed a lot of maturity on our part.”

The Wildcats will have their final matches of the regular season this week, traveling to Oregon State on Wednesday and then wrapping up the season at home against rival ASU on Friday.


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