In front of 3,547 fans at McKale Center on Wednesday night, 18th-ranked Arizona volleyball defeated No. 19 Arizona State in a dramatic five-set thriller (21-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-27, 15-13) Wednesday night in the Pac-12 opener.
It was a game of comebacks and gritty performances, the first of which came from Arizona. After losing the first set, the Wildcats were slow out of the gates in the second, trailing 14-9 and watching the match’s momentum slip further and further to the side of the Sun Devils. The Cats fought back to win the set 25-22 to knot the match at a set apiece.
After winning the third set, Arizona (12-1, 1-0 Pac-12) led the match 2-1 and had controlled the majority of the fourth set. The Wildcats led the fourth 24-20, with the massive crowd backing their four match point opportunities. ASU scored the next five points and went on to win the set 27-25.
The Sun Devils (10-3, 0-1 Pac-12) carried that momentum into an early fifth-set lead, taking a 7-4 advantage before the Cats battled back. Back-and-forth, back-and-forth the rivals went until the set was tied at 13 each. An ASU attack error gave UA match point and a Halli Amaro kill gave Arizona the win.
“My hat goes off to ASU, they just kept fighting, they’re definitely a tough team,” said head coach Dave Rubio. “But we found a way, it wasn’t the prettiest, best executed game for us but we hung in there.”
Amaro and Ashley Harris stepped up in the fifth set to lead the Cats to victory. Harris had four kills on eight swings in the fifth, part of her career-best 19 kills in the match. Amaro had three kills in the set, including the game winner. The junior finished with 12 kills on just 20 total attempts.
“Ashley definitely came to the rescue,” said Rubio. “Statistically some of our key players had a rough game. But Ashley was terrific, especially offensively.”
Harris’ 19 kills were more than double her previous career mark (nine kills vs. South Dakota on August 29, 2014).
"It feels amazing,” said Harris. “It feels good being able to help the team by stepping up for Madi, who needs us day in and day out, and getting a taste of what it’s like to be in her shoes. It was definitely the game I've been waiting to have; I want to play like this every night."
Penina Snuka dished out 60 assists on the night, a career-high, while tying a season-high with 18 digs for her 10th double-double of the season.
Ronni Lewis set a career-high with 25 digs while Kingdon tied a season-best with 15 digs, giving her her fourth double-double of the season. Laura Larson chipped in 11 digs of her own.
“Really the unsung heroes of the match are Ronni Lewis, Laura Larson and Kennedy Wesley,” said Rubio. “They kept us in the match from a servers standpoint and serve receive standpoint, and so forth. You don’t really get a chance to recognize much else besides net play but we definitely did this time around.”
The Wildcats out-blocked ASU 12.5-8.0. McKenzie Jacobson was in on five of the blocks, setting a career mark. Jacobson added eight kills, also a career figure.
Arizona State stormed out of the gates in the first set, taking 10 of the first 13 points. The Cats would battle back, but could never overcome the early deficit, as ASU won wire-to-wire, 25-21.
The second set appeared to be much of the same, with ASU taking the early lead, leading by as many as five (14-9). The Cats would fight back, tying the set at 15 before ASU re-extended its lead to three at 20-17. Arizona would grab eight of the final 10 points to win it 25-22. Both teams struggled offensively in the set; UA won despite hitting .093 thanks to holding ASU to a .070 clip.
The Wildcats controlled the majority of the third set, leading 17-8 before seeing its lead slowly evaporate. ASU closed to within one (21-20), before UA scored four of the final five points, punctuated by a Taylor Arizobal kill, and UA took the third, 25-21.
Arizona carried its momentum to the fourth, where it led early and then broke away late, leading ASU 24-20 with four match point opportunities. The Sun Devils, though scored the next five points and won the set 27-25.
The Sun Devils then took the early advantage in the fifth, leading 7-4 after 11 points. A 6-1 Wildcat run put the Cats up 10-8. After ASU scored the next two points, the teams exchanged points until the set was tied at 13. Arizona scored the game’s final two points to seal the victory.
Arizona is back in action on Friday when it takes on No. 20 UCLA at 8 p.m. PDT at Pepperdine University.
For continued coverage of Arizona volleyball, visit ArizonaWildcats.com and be sure to follow the team on Twitter (@ArizonaVBall).