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Maintaining confidence vital for Arizona volleyball after slow start in Pac-12 play

arizona-volleyball-all-pac-12-honorable-mention-maldonado-diaz-hiapo-hodge-2022 Photo by Catherine Regan / Arizona Athletics

Four games into Pac-12 play, Arizona volleyball has issues it needs to address. Some of those are physical issues on the court, but others are mental and emotional hurdles according to head coach Dave Rubio. Confidence is one of those issues.

The idea is that the team should not be focused on the name on the jersey on the other side of the net. It rarely works that way in real life, though.

“I think that’s easier said than done,” Rubio said. “You can preach it all you want, but you know the difference between playing Oregon State and Oregon. The players know the difference, and today’s student-athletes, in general, regardless of sport, are evaluating the opponent, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Obviously, it’s not because if they evaluate the opponent and they feel like they’re not threatening, then they determine...what kind of effort they want to put forth. And then, conversely, if you’re looking and they’re like, ‘God, we’re playing a team like Oregon. We’ve got to play so much better than we have been playing.’ And that’s impossible. You can’t play better than you have been playing. You are who you are. For me, it’s ‘hey, let’s focus on what we need to do and play what we’ve been trained to play, and then we’ll be fine.’ If we do that, then we’ll be fine. But if you feel like we haven’t played above that, then we’re going to make too many mistakes. I felt like that was part of the problem [against Oregon].”

Senior libero Kamaile Hiapo believes that the confidence of some players may be about more than just this season.

“I think everybody goes through that,” Hiapo said. “That phase where you’re questioning. I’ve been [there]. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been seasoned for a little bit. We haven’t made a tournament, but we’ve been doing well. It’s hard to lose...Along the way, it’s hard to see where we want to be or where we can be.”

The only option is to continue standing strong and supporting each other.

“We were definitely talking about trusting the process,” Hiapo said. “And just being in it together and being here for the ride. The more things we overcome together, the more we will gain confidence. We’re definitely not alone, and I think that’s something that we can all share as teammates together. We definitely try to share each other’s burdens and rely on each other and I think that’s a good thing. It’ll help build our confidence in each other and our trust.”

That support doesn’t necessarily have to be all about praise and pretending everything is alright.

“A lot of time our team tries to veer away from conflicts, and not all conflict is a bad thing,” Hiapo said. “So I think we need to use those trials.”

Even if their confidence is on-point, the Wildcats also have some physical issues to confront. The team has focused on limiting errors this season. While they have done a good job of that overall, Rubio is concerned not just about the number of errors they commit but also about the timing of the errors.

“The beginning of the game, unforced errors aren’t nearly as critical as the end of the game,” Rubio said as he discussed the issues Arizona had against Oregon last week. “Especially in set two, I think we were up 15 to 13, and we just don’t execute well enough from 15 to 25. I think we were up 15 to 13. [Oregon] sided out. They serve Jaelyn [Hodge]. Jaelyn overpassed and they score. The next ball, they ace. The next ball, Madison [Ellman] passes, and Emery can’t get to the ball, Zyonna [Fellows] was in the way, and that ball drops. So, all of a sudden it’s 17 to 15. I’m calling a timeout. So, we’re just not quite as efficient as we need to be in those moments of the game.”

USC Women of Troy (11-4, 3-1 Pac-12) @ Arizona Wildcats (11-4, 1-3 Pac-12)

When: Friday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. MST

Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Viewing: Pac-12 Arizona

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

Rankings: Neither team is ranked in the AVCA poll. USC is No. 25 in RPI while Arizona is No. 74.

Rubio says: “‘SC will be the most physical team that we played. They don’t function quite as well as Oregon; Oregon functions pretty well. But that doesn’t mean they won’t function well against us. We’ll certainly be prepared for what ‘SC brings. Everyone has flaws and whatever team can exploit those flaws is the team that’s going to win. And, so, we’ll see. Our flaws are...since conference started, we’re just not clean enough, just too many unforced errors, too many errors at the wrong time.”

UCLA Bruins (6-7, 0-4 Pac-12) @ Arizona Wildcats (11-4, 1-3 Pac-12)

When: Sunday, Oct. 9 at 12 p.m. MST

Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Viewing: Arizona Live Stream

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

Rankings: Neither team is ranked in the AVCA poll. UCLA is No. 71 in RPI while Arizona is No. 74.

Rubio says: “I’m a UCLA guy. My mom went to UCLA. Grew up in Los Angeles. Bruin fan from [that] time. Would watch John Wooden, and so I’ve always been a Bruin fan. And UCLA every year. especially in volleyball, should be one of the top 10 teams in the country. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be. They get all the best recruits. So I’m surprised [at their record]. They should be better, for sure. Those schools that choose to recruit solely off the transfer portal, you kind of live and die by the portal. There’s a couple players in the program—the opposite is a homegrown kid. But he’s relying on a setter that’s a fifth-year kid. It worked last year. They were pretty good. But there’s some potential chemistry issues anytime you bring in a lot of kids.”

How to follow along

Follow us on Twitter @AZDesertSwarm for all things Arizona Wildcats. For live tweets of volleyball matches and news throughout the week, follow our deputy editor @KimDoss71.