Arizona beach volleyball ready for 2017 after Red-Blue scrimmage
Arizona defender Brooke Burling (31) high fives a teammate after the beach volleyball scrimmage on Feb. 24.
Four years ago, the University of Arizona brought a piece of the beach to the desert by building a sand volleyball program. In anticipation of their fourth season, the Wildcats debuted their young talent before fans at their annual Red-Blue Scrimmage on Friday.
Arizona begins the season ranked No. 6 in the nation under Pac-12 Coach of the Year Steve Walker. While Walker led the team to a 20-win season in 2016, the Wildcats come in to 2017 with a handful of new faces.
Kendra Dahlke, the starting outside hitter for the indoor women’s volleyball team, is one of the new faces fans will see on the sand this season. In her first year with the team, she’s focused on her transition from indoor play to the adjustment of handling the elements of the outdoors.
So far, she’s found exactly what she was looking for.
“I love it,” Dahlke said. “I was looking forward to this and it was definitely everything I expected that it would be. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Returning senior Madison Witt has high expectations for this season and sees great potential starting with the first year players.
“This season, were a really young team,” Witt said. “We’re looking to build and grow and we have a lot of big goals. We’re hoping to host Pac-12s and make it to nationals, ultimately.”
Arizona’s Red-Blue game was a chance for fans to get a first look at the Wildcats in action and as the scrimmage progressed, walker saw an improvement in play which met his expectations.
“I think as [the newcomers] calmed down tonight, they played significantly better,” Walker said. “It’s pretty typical for an inexperienced or first year player to be maybe a little nervous in anticipation for how it’s going to look and feel.”
Speakers playing music all evening and a visit from Wilbur rocking a Hawaiian shirt made the scrimmage a fun event for the fans and athletes, but Walker and his players emphasized the importance of using the game in preparation for the upcoming opening tournament.
“I think it’s going to be as good of an opening weekend as we’ve played,” Walker said of the scheduled opposition which includes Jacksonville, No. 5 Hawaii and in-state rivals ASU.
Arizona hosts the Arizona Invitational next weekend.
“Jacksonville is a little bit of an unknown, but usually that first match is more about yourself and trying to steady your own play,” Walker said. “Obviously Hawaii is the team that knocked us out of the NCAA Tournament last year and is a high level program. We’re going to have our hands full and we’re ready to face that challenge.”
Dahlke anticipates an exciting opening tournament and is ready to see her teammates thrive in the challenges ahead against high level competition.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing other teams,” Dahlke said. “Going up against other competition is a lot of fun. I’m really excited to play against Hawaii and get different looks.”
The Wildcats will face Jacksonville on March 3 at home to begin the season in the Arizona Invitational. Following that match, Arizona will play Hawaii for a chance to redeem themselves after losing to the Rainbow Warriors last season.
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