Pac-12 Invite a crucial opportunity for Sand Cats
This weekend is a true test of talent for Arizona beach volleyball. It is a chance for the Sand Cats to prove they belong in the conversation for one of the top beach volleyball programs on the West Coast. The ‘Cats are set to compete in the Pac-12 South Invitational in Santa Monica, Calif. and will match up against four nationally ranked Pac-12 schools.
The Pac-12 is home to six out of the top 20 ranked beach volleyball programs this year: No. 2 UCLA, No. 4 USC, No. 11 Arizona, No. 14 Stanford, No. 16 California and No. 19 Washington.
Arizona will face UCLA, USC, Stanford and Cal in the invitational.
So far in the season, Arizona is 1-0 in conference play. The 'Cats defeated Washington by a score of 3-2 on March 2 in the Arizona Invitational at Bear Down Beach. Thanks to the clutch victory by junior Mia Mason and sophomore Brooke Burling, the ‘Cats were able to grab their first conference win under the belt early in the season.
Last year, the Huskies ended Arizona's season in the Pac-12 Tournament in Tucson. This year, the ‘Cats were able to avenge themselves and get the victory.
UCLA has won its past nine games and currently holds a 14-3 record on the season. The Bruins swept all three of their games at the LMU Invitational last weekend in Santa Monica.
USC is the defending Pac-12 Tournament Champions. This year, they hold an 11-6 record, something that has shocked most of the Pac-12.
“This will be a real good opportunity to show USC how good we are this year,” said UA senior Stephany Purdue.
Stanford currently holds an 8-4 record despite losing its first four games of the season. The recent hot streak continued after hosting the Stanford Invitational last weekend in Stanford, California.
California has had a story of a season this year. After dropping its first game of the season to Saint Mary’s in Stockton, California, the Bears' players have won their past 11 games, helping to move them into the national rankings.
This will be the Wildcats’ third trip to California this season. However, playing on the road isn’t as easy as it might seem.
“There are different weather and ambient conditions that you have to get used to in order to do well," Purdue said after going 4-0 on her last road trip. "It’s different actually playing on the beach.”
Beating some of the country's top programs could vault the beach volleyball team into an even larger spotlight and make them the favorite in the Pac-12.
The Sand Cats are in action starting at 11 a.m. PST on Saturday, March 24, against UCLA.
Follow Amit Syal on Twitter