Now that the regular season is over, the No. 9 Arizona beach volleyball is gearing up for the Pac-12 championship in Los Angeles. The SandCats finished the season with a stellar record of 21-4.
Their last match of the season came against their biggest rival, No. 20 Arizona State. The SandCats won the match 4-1 and have not lost to ASU since 2017. Defender Brooke Burling, who defeated her Sun Devil opponents in two sets, credits head coach Steve Walker and assistant coach Emily Kiser for the SandCats’ stellar final match against ASU.
“All credit goes to [Walker] and [Kiser],” Burling said. “They had the idea for us to go up the day before the match to sleep and get our minds right. Then we were able to show up fresh for the match instead of driving two hours up to ASU the day of the match. It was a really smart move by the coaching staff, and it gave us our win.”
Nothing will be easy from here on out because the SandCats will face the best teams in the conference at the Pac-12 championship beginning on April 29. Arizona has seen many of these teams in the regular season, but everything changes in the playoffs. Regardless, Burling knows she and her team are ready.
“Our mindset is that we want to win every match for our team,” Burling said. “Pairs one through five, none of us are relying on the others which is what is giving us these wins. Everyone is going out there and doing their job to win for the team. All we have to do is win three matches and that has been able to give us the upset wins that we need.”
If the SandCats want to win the Pac-12 championship, they will have to win it in upset fashion because No. 1 USC and No. 2 UCLA stand in their way. Arizona did not face USC in the regular season, but they did face UCLA and it was not pretty.
The Bruins swept the match and every SandCat pair lost in two sets. In a past interview via Zoom, blocker Carly Lowry was asked about the California teams and acknowledged that it would take something special to beat the best two teams in the nation.
“I would say playing with a lot of grit and passion,” Lowry said. “We saw it with the women’s basketball team, and I think it is the same type of energy. I think sticking together with each other, being great teammates and working hard every day. USC and UCLA are the opportunities to prove yourself.”
Burling echoed her teammates' response on what it will take to beat USC and UCLA.
“On any given day, anybody can beat anybody,” Burling said. “It is going to take some hard work, grit and a little bit of luck. That is all you ever need.”
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If that does not work, Burling assured that the team has another failsafe.
“We are definitely going to watch film,” Burling said. “We will set up plays that we know they run and defend against them. We just have to go out and play our game.”
If that game looks anything like how blocker Mady Noble and defender Dana Parker play, then the SandCats will be tough to beat. Noble and Parker have won nine of their last 10 matches, all of them in two sets. This is Noble’s first year and already she has established herself as one of the best Arizona has. Noble credits her and Parker’s dominant stretch by their ability to talk to one another.
“One thing that me and [Parker] do really well is communicate,” Noble said. “We communicate about everything. Whether it be playing on the court or off the court. In the beginning of the season, we were not doing as well and then we talked about it. We needed to flip a switch and we did.”
Since communication worked so well for Noble during the regular season, she feels it could be what carries the team to success during the Pac-12 championship.
“If we get frustrated and do not say anything, then we dig ourselves into a hole that we cannot get out of,” Noble said. “I think communication will be a big key factor to doing well at the Pac-12 tournament.”
The SandCats will face their toughest challenge yet at the Pac-12 tournament in Los Angeles, California beginning on April 29 at Mapes Beach.
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