Shardonee Hayes slams home a spike against Arizona State on Thursday, Sept. 20. Hayes had 9 kills and 3 blocks for the Wildcats in a straight sets win over the Sun Devils.
A boisterous crowd in excess of 2,500 did everything it could to boost the Arizona Wildcats' chances against in-state rival Arizona State on Thursday night.
The Wildcats (12-1, 1-0) responded to their efforts, sweeping their longtime rivals from Tempe in straight sets to pick up a win in their Pac-12 opener—25-18, 25-21 and 25-18.
Longtime Arizona Coach Dave Rubio addressed the importance of beating the Sun Devils in his post-match remarks, praising the crowd of 2,685 for their support, including members of the school's student section, the ZonaZoo.
"For us, the last four weeks it was nice to play in front of a terrific crowd," Rubio said. "I really want to thank the ZonaZoo for coming out in full force. The Tucson community really supported our match tonight and that was great, but especially the ZonaZoo. That was the biggest number of ZonaZoo people that I’ve ever seen in my 27 years here. So, I really appreciate those guys coming out and supporting us."
The Wildcats fought off a few missteps in the first set, thanks to an overwhelming show of force by its front line.
Two of the match's most-impactful players were Shardonee Hayes, Katie Smoot and Kendra Dahlke, who combined to earn 32 kills and 8 blocks for the Wildcats.
Their efforts kept the Devils' attack at-bay, crushing their rival's resolve with deft spikes and thunderous blocks.
Smoot addressed the team's front line dominance, attributing their success to Rubio's game plan and their ability to put the ball in tough spots for the Devils' players.
"I think offensively it was all about putting the ball in places where we knew that they couldn’t respond and using the block really to our advantage tonight," Smoot said. "That really allowed us to get a lot of kills."
Smoot and her teammates took pleasure in their ability to cruise past their longtime rivals, saying the squad took extra motivation from their shared drive to dominate the match.
"I think, personally I had a lot of adrenaline going into the game," Smoot said. "And personally, I wanted to beat them in three [sets] because I don't want to see them succeed, which sounds pretty aggressive, but maybe that's because it's a rivalry game."
Rubio believes his team is in excellent form ahead of their toughest match to-date, on Sunday against number-two-ranked Stanford in Palo Alto.
"In a young season, getting that first win in the conference is a big deal, and it’s always nice to do it against your in-state rival," Rubio said. "We have a tall order, we’re on the road our next three matches, so we’ll see how we do. You never know, Stanford looks really good right now. We’re all kind of chasing them in the conference, but we’ll give it a shot."
The Wildcats and Cardinal (9-1, 1-0) square off at 12 p.m. Arizona time on Sunday, with the Pac-12 Network airing the contest live.