It was a weekend of excitement and emotions at Bear Down Beach on April 2-3. The No. 13 Arizona beach volleyball team defeated UC Davis by a match score of 4-1, lost to No. 10 Grand Canyon University 0-5 and defeated Missouri State and No. 8 Pepperdine 4-1 at the Arizona Invitational.
This invitational was the last series of home matches this year, so it was senior day for the Sand Cats. There were 10 seniors who were honored in a post-game ceremony, defenders Sara Wantanabe, Natalie Anselmo, Makenna Martin, Brooke Burling, Olivia Hallaran and Jonny Baham and blockers Caroline Cordes, Lauren Olrich, Carly Lowry and split blocker Halie Hess.
Lowry looked back on her time at the UA and said she was grateful for every match.
“It is such a supportive program,” Lowry said. “I have never felt more support than I have here. The culture here is positive and energetic, and I am proud to be ending my career here with my feet in the sand. This is a great team and I have loved every second of it.”
Anselmo is from Los Angeles, California, but she said she feels that a lot of her family is now in Tucson.
“This program is my home,” Anselmo said. “I have made a home with the people who have worked here and all my teammates. It is still a professional place because it fosters an environment where you can find your potential and grow as a person and a player and it has been a really positive experience.”
Friday, April 2: Match one vs. UC Davis
The Sand Cats got off to a great start against UC Davis. On court three, Lowry and Anselmo started off their senior weekend in dominant fashion, beating their opponents in two sets by scores of 21-14 and 21-18. Burling and split blocker Sarah Blacker took care of business early on court two, ending their match in two sets by scores of 21-13 and 21-16.
The biggest performance of the match came from Baham and Hallaran on court four. After escaping their first set 21-17, the Sand Cats created more separation in the second set and won comfortably 21-7. Hallaran credits the team’s hard style of play.
“Our team was aggressive with everything that they were doing,” Hallaran said. “We served, passed and set aggressively. We were very prepared to play UC Davis.”
Arizona won three of their four matches in two sets, which is something they do often. Hallaran feels it comes down to keeping the game simple.
“It just comes down to the basics,” Hallaran said. “If we can control and take care of our side then that helps us win those games [in two sets.]"
Friday, April 2: Match two vs. No. 10 Grand Canyon University
Arizona looked like a completely different team against GCU, only it was not in a good way.
Lowry and Anselmo kept their sets close on court three, but they ended up losing both 19-21 and 16-21. On court four, defender Dana Parker and blocker Mady Noble also struggled. They dropped both sets by a score of 17-21.
On court five, Baham and Hallaran were able to push their match to three sets and keep all of them close. It was not enough, as they lost 16-21, 21-16 and 13-15. None of the other pairs were able to get a victory, and it was the first time all season the Sand Cats were swept. Baham felt the Sand Cats were not as ready as they should have been.
“[GCU] just executed better than us,” Baham said. “We did not come out as prepared as they did. We did not have the right mindset.”
Baham knew that the team could not go forward with how they played against GCU and had to completely reset and refocus.
“We have to come back with a better mindset and be more prepared,” Baham said. “We have to be more aggressive and come back with a vengeance because I know that we are all very [upset] about that loss and we want to do better tomorrow and show [Missouri State] what we got.”
Saturday, April 3: Match three vs. Missouri State
Baham’s words rang true the following day because the Sand Cats showed no mercy and gave Missouri State everything they had.
Hallaran and Baham had double-digit victories in both sets on court five, dominating their MSU opponents 21-11 and 21-10. On court one, defender Alana Rennie and blocker Alex Parkhurst also bounced back and won in two sets 21-9 and 21-12.
Lowry and Anselmo also came out with a better mindset, ending their match in two sets by scores of 21-13 and 21-10 on court three. Anselmo credited the win to coach Steve Walker and how he helped the team refocus.
“[Coach Walker] told us that we cannot focus too much on what is on the other side of the net,” Anselmo said. “We needed to focus on the things that we could control. It is okay that we did not have a good day [against GCU] because that is going to motivate us more and light a fire in us and we can get the job done.”
Saturday, April 3: Match four vs. No. 8 Pepperdine
The final match of the invitational was without a doubt the most difficult opponent the Sand Cats had faced all year. Before this match, the Sand Cats were 0-3 against ranked opponents. Even with Pepperdine being ranked in the top 10, the Sand Cats were unphased.
On court five, Hallaran was back with a new partner, defender Hope Shannon. Even with the change, Hallaran and Shannon destroyed one of the best teams in the country by set scores of 21-12 and 21-11. Burling and Blacker earned another victory for the Sand Cats on court two, finishing in three sets by scores of 13-21, 21-19 and 21-19.
Lowry and Anselmo finished off the match on court three, winning in three sets by scores of 19-21, 24-22 and 15-10. It was the first time in program history that Arizona had defeated Pepperdine. Instead of controlling only parts of the game, Lowry felt that the team must control every part of the game.
“We play [hard] for every single point,” Lowry said. “Every ball is a different ball. It is all separated from the entire game itself. We play every ball individually and that helps us to stay focused in the game.”
The Sand Cats will head to Phoenix for the Pac-12 North Invitational April 10-11. Arizona will face Stanford on Saturday, April 10, at 11:30 a.m. MST and Washington at 4:30 p.m. MST. On Sunday, April 11, Arizona will face Cal at 10:15 a.m. MST and UCLA at 2 p.m. MST.
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