Cougars set for hot match up with ASU and Arizona


Freshman McKenna Woodford spikes the ball during a match against Utah in Bohler Gym, Sept. 26, 2015.

The Washington State volleyball team will conclude its four-game stretch against top-15 teams this weekend as it takes on the Arizona schools.

After getting swept by both No. 1 USC and No. 12 UCLA on the road last weekend, WSU (12-4, 1-3) comes home to face No. 14 Arizona (12-5, 2-3) at 6 p.m. today and No. 5 Arizona State (15-0, 4-0) at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Head Coach Jen Greeny is looking to right the ship this upcoming weekend after slow starts doomed the Cougars a week ago in Los Angeles.

“This was a little disappointing because I thought once again that we weren’t real consistent, and I know we can play better,” Greeny said after the loss to UCLA in a press release. “I’m disappointed that we’re not showing our best every time we step out on the court.”

The Cougars have had great success when getting off to a fast start and winning the first set in their matches this year. WSU is 11-1 when winning the first set, and 1-3 when losing it. Freshman outside hitter McKenna Woodford said the team is working hard at starting quicker this weekend.

“If you can get that first game, you have a good chance for the rest of the match,” Woodford said. “There’s always a chance that teams can come back. They do it all the time in the Pac-12, but if you can get your momentum going right away, that’s definitely a huge advantage.”

Woodford, who is from Chandler, Arizona, has a personal connection to the two schools she’ll face this weekend. She said she grew up an Arizona State fan, and is very familiar with all of their players. Arizona State senior outside hitter Macey Gardner was an assistant coach for the club Woodford used to play for.

She also personally knows some players on Arizona’s squad, including junior setter Penina Snuka, who Woodford played with at East Valley Juniors Volleyball Club. Woodford called Snuka “ridiculously good.” Snuka leads the Pac-12 in assists per set with 11.24 this season, and 11.75 in conference matches. WSU’s own setter, junior Haley MacDonald, is ranked third on the season with 10.56.

In the Cougars’ match on Sunday, they will face an ASU squad that excels in most of WSU’s weakest areas. In conference matches, Arizona State leads the Pac-12 in kills (14.79 kps), hitting percentage (.269) and assists (14.00 aps). WSU on the other hand is last in each of those statistical categories (11.00 kps, .132, 10.4 aps).

“They’re a good defensive team, good offensive team; they’re big,” junior outside hitter Kyra Holt said of the Sun Devils. “But that’s pretty much the same thing about every single team (in the Pac-12). They’re good, they hit hard and they dig well.”

The challenges don’t stop with Arizona State, as Arizona junior outside hitter Kalei Mau came into the week leading the Pac-12 with 5.25 kills per set in conference matches; the Wildcats lead the conference in digs per set with 16.45.

With the Cougars 0-3 against ranked foes this season, Woodford said the path isn’t going to get much easier, as she stressed the importance of starting fast and the team playing to its potential.

“We’re working on our consistency,” Woodford said. “We know we can play and we know how we can play, but it’s just a matter of stepping out onto the court and doing the same thing every time and not falling into these holes where we can’t figure out what we’re doing.”

The Cougars will be in Bohler Gymnasium both this weekend and next weekend, which may help them find that consistency.

“I definitely think, with the support of all of our fans, that we’ll come out a lot faster,” Holt said.

For those who can’t make it to Bohler Gym, both matches will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.