Putting geographical rivalries to the side, going into Friday’s regular season-ending match in Tempe, No. 14 Arizona was seeking a top-16 overall seed and a home court in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament, while No. 22 Arizona State was squarely on the bubble for an at-large berth in the field.
The Wildcats (23-9, 12-8 Pacific-12) proved to have more of a sense of urgency, sweeping the Sun Devils (19-13, 9-11) 29-27, 25-20, 25-21, behind 15 Madi Kingdon kills and 12 from Ashley Harris. Macey Gardner of ASU tied for the match-high with 15. Previously this season, the Cats won in five sets Sept. 24 in Tucson, and ASU leads the all-time series 48-46.
“I’m concerned whether we’re prepared to keep going, or we’re just content with the season we’ve had,” ASU coach Jason Watson said. “There’s some heavy concern right now with what happens next for this team.”
Five consecutive points gave the Wildcats a 17-14 lead in the first, and a Kingdon kill set up game point at 24-22. Back-to-back errors tied it, and after Kingdon again paced her team to a game point, the Cats double faulted putting ASU in the driver’s seat. Out of the timeout, Harris tied it, McKenzie Willey put ASU in control, Harris tied it again at 27-27, Kennedy Wesley produced a service ace, and Halli Amaro blocked Gardner at the net to take the opener, 29-27. Arizona went up two sets, 25-20, by building and maintaining a five-point lead throughout the period.
The Devils scored seven of the first eight points of the third, before the Wildcats came back to tie it at 13-13 on a Taylor Arizobal block. Harris put Arizona on top, 18-17, and then added a block and the two-point advantage. Gardner went wide to give the Cats match point, and Harris sent home the clincher, 25-21.
“They’re playing to make a case to be seeded,” Watson said of Arizona, “and they certainly played like it tonight. I think they’re playing really well.”
Penina Snuka collected 39 assists for Arizona, while Bianca Arellano had 32 for ASU, and Kingdon had the match-high of 19 digs. It was the second time this week that ASU forced its opponent’s star player to a significant amount of errors, after UCLA’s Karsta Lowe had 15 Wednesday and Kingdon had seven Friday.
“There are some positives,” Watson said, responding to the forced errors, “but in this conference, you can’t do a job on one person, you have to do a job on multiple people, and I felt like we just didn’t do some of the things we could control. Both of our middles hit negative, we just could not get good sets.”
Friday was also the final home appearance for Sun Devil senior setter Shannan McCready, of Aiea, Hawaii, who was honored before the match.
“Being here has made me who I am today,” said McCready, who wants to attend graduate school. “It’s made me a better person, being able to play alongside these ladies, it’s been one of the best experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
The NCAA Selection Show will occur at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU, with the first round beginning late next week, on the road to Oklahoma City for the Final Four, Dec. 18-20. Arizona is 13th in the Ranked Percentage Index, with non-conference wins over Kansas State (18th), Central Florida (33rd) and Cal State Northridge (40th), a win over Oregon (eighth), and a loss to Texas (second). ASU is 41st in the category, with wins over Oregon, UCLA (17th), USC (23rd), Colorado (24th), and Hawaii (30th). Last year, the Cats bowed to San Diego in the second round and ASU to BYU in the first.
“It’s going to be the ultimate waiting game for us,” McCready said. “You want to have good thoughts, but you never know what way it’s going to go.”
With seven teams in the top 25 of the RPI, Coach Watson said the Pac-12 could get as many as 10 teams in the tournament, but he lamented that his team had finished 4-6 and would probably be the 10th.
“It goes to show how much each team works to make it to the tournament,” Gardner said. “Each team has had wins, losses, and they’re against good teams. This week has really showed how extreme it is to play (in the Pac-12). These last couple matches mean a lot where you’re going to end up in the tournament.”