It was a blistering hot day in Los Angeles on the first day of the Pac-12 tournament at Mapes Beach. The No. 8 Arizona beach volleyball team was not phased and swept rival ASU on Thursday, April 29 by a match score of 3-0.
Arizona came into the tournament as the No. 3 seed and ASU was the No. 6 seed. The Sand Cats just faced ASU for their last match of the season on Thursday, April 22 and won 4-1. Arizona came in as the heavy favorites but ASU did not go down without a fight.
It has become an ongoing trend for defender Dana Parker and blocker Mady Noble to get the Sand Cats off to a hot start, and that was exactly what they did on court three.
Sun Devils Lila Bordis and Samantha Plaster ran into a brick wall against Noble’s net presence and Parker’s setting ability. The Sand Cats cruised to an easy first set win 21-9. It was not the same story in the second set, as Noble and Parker found themselves in extras with the Sun Devils. Even still, the Sand Cats escaped the set with the win 22-20, giving Arizona a 1-0 lead in the match. Noble and Parker continued their impressive stretch of not losing a match since April 11.
The intensity of the match was turned up on court two with defender Brooke Burling and split blocker Sarah Blacker finding themselves in a set-one dog fight with Sun Devils Kate Fitzgerald and Emily Anderson. Set one went deep into extras, with each team having four set points opportunities to close it out. The luck of the draw went to ASU as they took the first set 30-28.
“Their serving was really good,” Blacker said. “They were pushing us and being really aggressive. They were targeting my partner a lot. [Burling] was seeing every serve and they put every ball on her. It can be frustrating when they target one person, but that is just part of the game.”
Burling took notice of the targeting and turned it against ASU in the second set. Once the Sand Cats reset and cleared their minds, they made sure the second set was not close, winning 21-15. In the third and final set, Burling and Blacker communicated more throughout and cruised to a 15-7 victory. Though it was only the two of them on the court, Blacker credits the victory to how her teammates supported her and Burling during their tough match.
“The determination comes from our teammates too who are cheering us on along the sidelines,” Blacker said. “It is nice to have our teammates empower and encourage us. When I hear how loud my teammates are it pushes me to be more determined. I would say our team has been very good pushing and fighting this year.”
With the Sand Cats now up 2-0, they were one match victory away from advancing to the next round. It was up to defender Alana Rennie and blocker Alex Parkhurst, a team that has struggled recently, to secure the match victory.
Much like Burling and Blacker, Sand Cats Rennie and Parkhurst ran into early trouble in set one against Sun Devils Katelyn Carballo and Lexi Sweeney on court one. Holding a comfortable 20-15 lead, the Sand Cats only needed one more point to secure the set. Out of nowhere, Parkhurst and Rennie collapsed. Multiple errors and miscommunication led to a 7-0 ASU run and the Sand Cats dropped the set 20-22. Rennie admitted that laziness played a major factor.
“It was more of a relaxed mindset instead of the determination that we usually have,” Rennie said. “We don’t feel ASU did anything to earn the victory. We feel it was our unforced errors or hitting out and not being as skillful as we needed to be.”
After the technical timeout, Rennie and Parkhurst quit messing around and played every ball as if it were set point. The Sand Cats locked in and won the next two sets 21-13 and 15-11. Rennie explained how it was Parkhurst that put the team on her back.
“I give [Parkhurst] a lot of credit,” Rennie said. “She called the right plays and her reading [the defense] while she was blocking was really good.”
Since matches in beach volleyball play to result in tournaments and Arizona won the first three, the other two Sand Cats pairs did not have to play their matches.
With ASU out of the way, Arizona will now have to face one of the best teams in the country for round two, No. 2 UCLA. After learning from their mistakes against ASU, Rennie knows they cannot make those mistakes against the Bruins.
“UCLA is not going to give up anything,” Rennie said. “They are a very good team and dynamic with what they do. If we go out as strong and fast as we can then I think we have a good chance of hanging with them and making it a close and interesting game. Hopefully, we come out on top.”
Arizona will battle it out with UCLA at Mapes Beach for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday, April 30 at 11:30 a.m. MST.
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