Arizona volleyball advances to Sweet 16 after upsetting No. 9 Michigan State
Arizona outside hitter Kendra Dahlke (8) spikes the ball against No. 25 USC in McKale Center on Wednesday, Nov. 2. The Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16 for the eighth time in program history after upsetting Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan.
Advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Championship is a time for celebration for the Arizona women’s volleyball team after defeating No. 9 Michigan State 3-2 (17-25, 25-16, 25-19, 24-26, 15-10) in the second round on Saturday at Jenison Field House on Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan.
In just the eighth time in head coach Dave Rubio’s tenure as well as in program history, the Wildcats are headed to the Sweet 16 and will compete in the Lincoln, Nebraska Regional.
The five set victory advanced the Wildcats to their first Sweet 16 since 2005 when the ‘Cats made it to the Elite Eight.
“I am really proud of how we played, it was an unbelievable match,” Rubio said in an interview with Arizona Athletics.
The Spartans offense came out dominate in the opening set, making four consecutive points leaving the Wildcats to trail 17-9. Arizona was unable to recover the lost points giving Michigan State the chance to run with a 10-point advantage giving the Spartans the set 25-17.
The Wildcats pulled away quick in the second set and attack errors from the Spartans gave Arizona an eight point lead. The Wildcats took the set 25-16 and the highlight in the second was Kendra Dahlke who led the ‘Cats with seven kills on 10 errorless swings on a .538 hitting percentage.
The Wildcats maintained poise in the third set but the Spartans stayed close. It wasn’t long until the Wildcats broke away with a six-point run and took the third set 25-19.
The Spartans put up a battle in the fourth set as the both teams continued to exchange points. Arizona was set for the match point, 24-23, but Michigan State’s offense didn’t go down without a fight.
The Spartans took the fourth set 26-24 forcing the match to the deciding fifth set.
Arizona went into the fifth set scoring six of the first seven points. The Wildcats took a five-point lead with help from Kalei Mau with back-to-back kills.
Dahlke finished the set 15-10 with a kill taking the team to the Sweet 16.
Mau led Arizona with a total of 23 kills on a .321 hitting percentage followed by Dahlke with 22 kills on a .314 hitting percentage.
Setter Penina Snuka racked 57 assist with 15 digs for her 22nd double-double of the season.
There’s no question the Wildcats have had their backs against the wall with the odds against them and a resilient group is one way to describe the Arizona volleyball squad. From sweeping USC and UCLA in Los Angeles for the first since 1986, to Saturday night against the Spartans, this season has the making to be an intriguing one when it’s all said and done.
“I don’t even have words for it,” said Arizona libero Laura Larson. “That’s what the seniors and I have worked for these last four years.”
The hill for Arizona continues to present challenges for the Wildcats, as their next opponent is No. 8 Washington that swept Kentucky in the round-of-32 match. Not only were the Huskies crowned Pac-12 Conference champions, but they also swept Arizona this season. In two matches against the Huskies, Arizona has only won one set and was swept in its last outing in Seattle, which was less than a month ago.
Arizona will play in the Lincoln, Nebraska Regional Friday Dec. 9 against Washington and the time is to be announced.
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