Arizona volleyball falls at home to No. 18 Wazzu, Kalei Mau's body 'breaking apart'
Arizona outside hitter Kalei Mau (left) and middle blocker (right) Devyn Cross block a hit from outside hitter Kyra Holt (22) in Friday's game against Washington State. Mau expressed her body is not fully healthy yet as the Wildcats lost in straight sets to Washington State.
After three straight victories against ranked teams, Arizona volleyball couldn’t find any momentum to carry it to a win against No. 18 Washington State on Friday night. The Wildcats were swept by the Cougars 3-0 in McKale Center, putting them behind in a competitive Pac-12 Conference.
All eyes were on Kalei Mau on Friday night to see if she would be healthy enough to return to her dominant form.
The first set was Arizona’s best of the match. Mau, who sported a back brace, hit .429 and McKenzie Jacobson hit .333 to help contribute to the team’s 20 kills.
It was a neck-and-neck battle the whole set, but Arizona faltered late. With the match-point on the line at 25-24, head coach David Rubio made a move to sub Penina Snuka out of the game for Tyler Spriggs, but the bigger block in front got tooled. That point gave Washington State the momentum and the Cougars ran with it. WSU scored three straight points to steal the set 27-25.
Rubio has made substitutions for Snuka in similar situations before, but hasn’t found success.
“I got to rethink whether or not that’s something I want to do,” Rubio said.
The second set had a frustrating start for the Wildcats. A missed serve by Snuka started things off and overpassing plagued the team.
Mau left the court in tears in the middle of the set as she limped to the sideline with a lower body injury. Washington State scored quick in a silent arena, which tied the set at 13 before the Cougars began to pull away again.
Anxious Arizona fans took a sigh of relief when Mau returned to the game a couple of points later, but her return featured cautious and erroneous play. Kendra Dahlke, who was quiet early, stepped up in Mau’s place with five kills, but she couldn’t carry the team. Arizona dropped the second set 25-23.
Despite her return, Mau was far from healthy.
“My body is breaking apart,” Mau said. “I’m in a lot of pain and I play with it every day. [My back] starts to spasm and cramp out, and I can’t really move my legs.”
Dahlke explained the importance of the team’s ability to step up in Mau’s place.
“We have to look for each other and lean on each other,” she said.
It was apparent Mau and the Wildcats were out of sorts in the third set and Washington State’s all-star Kyra Holt dominated. Holt, who a healthy Mau matched offensively in the first two sets, took control on offense and from behind the line. While Mau totaled six attacking errors, Holt improved to 14 kills and two aces to carry the Cougars to an easy 25-16 win.
“Kyra is the heart and soul of that team,” Rubio said. “The confidence, the willingness to put the team on her back and the unselfishness that she’s playing with, if she continues to do that … then [Washington State is] going to be really good.”
As a positive from the match, Snuka had 36 assists which champed Washington State’s 34 team total, but with the Wildcats’ 24 attacking errors, it was difficult to see any reward for her work.
“I don’t think we played well as a team tonight,” Rubio said. “I never felt comfortable with the way we were playing. I always felt like we were behind.”
This match has the Wildcats revisiting a feeling of defeat they experienced earlier this season when they struggled against ranked opponents.
Spriggs, who tallied only three kills, blamed the team’s poor play on the hype from beating No.12 Stanford last week.
“You always want to beat the golden team, the team that’s kind of untouchable [Stanford]," Spriggs said. "So once you’ve achieved that it’s kind of like, ‘OK, well now we can coast,’ and that’s definitely not true in a conference like ours."
Arizona looked every bit of defeated following the loss.
“Doing everything we can and it’s still not enough is frustrating, but as a team, we need to come back and learn from it and come together,” Dahlke said.
The Wildcats have a short amount of time to regroup and come together, as the next match will be against No. 7 Washington on Sunday in McKale Center.
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Video via Pac-12.com.