On Wednesday morning, Arizona volleyball coach Dave Rubio said that some teams might not be as motivated when playing the Wildcats due to the injuries the team has suffered this season. That wasn’t a problem for California on Thursday evening as they defeated Arizona 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-16).
“I think a team finally played the way they should play against us,” Rubio said. “I mean, I can’t argue with the numbers that we put up. I mean, we hit over 300. The bad news, they hit for 460 or whatever they hit. It was a track meet to 25, and we were in it all the way till the middle of the set, each set, and then we just can’t keep up. We just don’t have the arms to keep up with anybody in the conference. If any school in the conference plays like that, we don’t have a chance. You know, it just... It’s an impossible place. We got to have health. And this is the first time we played against a team that played with efficiency. Before, they would always move the scoreboard for us. But that’s exactly how a team has to play against us if they’re going to beat us and they beat us. We just don’t have an answer for it. We just don’t have the offense right now.”
The Wildcats not only hit .308 for the match, but they also had three players with double-digit kills. Both teams played extremely clean matches. Cal had only seven attack errors in the match, while Arizona had just nine.
Part of the reason for the high percentages and low errors was a lack of effective blocking on both sides of the net. Arizona had a total of 25 blocks in their two matches last weekend. That averaged out to 2.5 blocks per set over their two five-set matches. On Thursday, both the Wildcats and the Golden Bears had just two blocks each over the entire three sets.
Things are made more difficult in that regard because they are having to play a libero at outside hitter. Freshman Kamaile Hiapo has done an impressive job playing in the front row despite being just 5-foot-7, but it does make things more difficult at the net. Hiapo played the position in high school, but it’s a different game in the Pac-12.
“I like hitting because you get to kill back and it’s not just you getting hit and hit,” Hiapo said. “I like kind of giving back to the team. A lot of it, it’s kind of hard because I’m short, obviously. But I think that there’s a lot of things I can help out with.”
One of those things is to continue providing strong defense. Hiapo has continued to account for 3.10 digs per set since moving to outside hitter. She had eight against California—only the second time she’s been under 10 digs since the change.
On offense, the Wildcats were led by Paige Whipple with 1 5 kills on .343 hitting. Whipple had just three hitting errors on 35 swings. She also added five digs and a service ace. In all, she scored a team-high 16 points.
Katie Smoot added 11 kills on .269 hitting with only four errors. She also had a block bringing her to 11.5 points.
Devyn Cross was the final Wildcats with double-digit kills, contributing 10 while hitting .556. She added an assist, three digs, one block, and 10.5 points.
The match was in Cal’s hands from the start, although Arizona kept it close through the first two sets. The Golden Bears were in the lead from 1-0 in the opening set, eventually building a 20-12 lead. As has been their tendency during this disappointing season, though, Arizona refused to just give in.
Down by eight points, the Wildcats went on an 8-3 run to close it to 23-20, but that was as close as they would get. The Golden Bears won two of the next three points to take the 1-0 lead.
Arizona got a better start in set two, gaining a 4-1 lead. The Wildcats held their lead until the Bears tied it at nine points. Neither team could get ahead by more than two as they kept tying it and trading leads.
California finally broke through that two-point cap when they went up 22-19. Arizona couldn’t reel them back in, and the Golden Bears took another 25-21 set to go up 2-0.
The final set was close until halfway through. At 12-12, Cal finally put it all together and Arizona couldn’t respond. The Wildcats would score only four more points as the Golden Bears closed out the match.
Arizona returns to the court to face Stanford on Saturday at 6 p.m. MST at McKale Center.