The trip to the Mountain schools is never easy. Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio calls it the “Twilight Zone.” It was an even bigger challenge for the Wildcats this year because of the travel difficulties they had on their way to Colorado on Thursday and Friday.
Things did not get easier in Utah, although it was not due to canceled flights this time. Instead, it was Utah super senior Dani Drews and the Utes putting together an unexceptional three-set victory (25-18, 25-19, 25-21). It was a result that the Utes seemed to have in hand from the start.
Neither team had flashy numbers. Drews led the match with 13 kills, and on the other side of the net Sofia Maldonado Diaz led the Wildcats with 12. The primary difference on offense was that the Utes had another player with double-digit kills.
Utah junior Zoe Weatherington had a strong match with 10 kills on .389 hitting to go along with two total blocks. It was just the seventh time this season that Weatherington has had 10 or more kills. Perhaps Weatherington was looking for family bragging rights. Her cousin is Wildcat alumna Devyn Cross.
That efficiency wasn’t confined to just one player. The Utes hit .371 for the match with their highest hitting percentage coming in the third set when they hit .484. The lowest hitting percentage on the team was Drews at .235, but they went as high as .889 with Amelia Van Der Werff getting eight kills on nine swings without a single error.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats hit just .186 on the day. They, too, had their best set in the third, but it was almost 240 points lower than the Utes at .242. Arizona had almost twice as many attack errors (18) as Utah (10) did in the match.
Reception errors also damaged the Wildcats’ cause. The Utes’ six service errors and eight aces were indicative of their aggressiveness and effectiveness on the serve. Arizona’s serve receive suffered accordingly as demonstrated by their eight reception errors versus just two by Utah.
After a career night at Colorado on Friday, Maldonado Diaz was not as effective on Sunday. She had one less kill on one less attack compared to Drews. The difference between the Utah super senior and the Arizona sophomore came down to attack errors. There were 10 from Maldonado Diaz versus just five for Drews.
As with most of their matches against the teams at the top of the league, Arizona stayed close to Utah through the first half of the first set. The two teams went toe-to-toe, standing tied at 11 points apiece. That’s when the Utes went on a 5-0 run that made all the difference.
Utah’s lead would shift between four and five points until the end of the set when they finally pushed it to six points. Arizona allowed only two runs of three or more points, but that was all the Utes needed to go up 1-0.
The second set was almost identical to the first. The final tie was at 13-13. A 6-1 run gave Utah a five-point lead. That was more than enough to cruise to a 25-18 victory.
The Wildcats had one more chance to stay in the match. When the two teams reached eight points apiece, the path ahead looked very much like the one taken in the two sets. Utah’s 8-3 run gave them a 16-11 lead.
This time, Arizona was able to mount a comeback. The Wildcats went on a 7-3 run to make it a one-point set. They just didn’t have enough to overtake the home team. The Utes outscored their visitors six to three to close out the match.
The Wildcats now stand at 12-9 on the season and 4-6 in Pac-12 play. They return home to play Stanford and California next week at McKale Center.