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No. 5 Stanford defeats Arizona volleyball in routine three-setter

COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: OCT 25 Oregon State at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats lost to the Stanford Cardinal in fairly routine three-set fashion in a rare Saturday evening match, but flashes of what the team could be were there.

The home team was able to stay close with the No. 5 team in the country for about half of each set before the defending national champs flexed their muscles against an injury-riddled Wildcat team, winning 25-16, 25-17, 25-16.

Arizona coach Dave Rubio has said for several weeks that he’s not worried about wins and losses. He just wants to see his team meet the goals they set. What is the goal on a night when they face a top team?

“That we came out and we really competed tonight, really fought hard,” he said. “I was proud of the fact that we did that. So just our attitude and our effort level. We’re really good volleyball players. We have good players. We’re not a great team because of the situation, but as long as they do that, I’m happy.

“So I have no complaints about tonight. I thought that Paige (Whipple) really played well and Katie (Smoot) played well. I thought our middles... it’s just... the outcome isn’t going to determine whether or not we’re successful. I’m really pleased with how the kids are handling a very difficult situation. I’m very proud. If I was one of the parents, and I kind of feel like I am, I’d be proud of them really dealing with a difficult situation the best they can.”

Whipple led Arizona with 16 kills on .143 hitting. She added two assists, six digs and two blocks. No other Wildcat had more than the five kills contributed by both Julia Patterson and Devyn Cross. Cross and defensive specialist Kamaile Hiapo each added two blocks.

The will to compete that Rubio was looking for would have been needed in any match against Stanford. It was especially important on the night when two-time AVCA Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer returned for just her second match since Sept. 29.

Plummer returned to the court against Arizona State on Thursday. She played in all three sets, but she didn’t score. That wasn’t the case against Arizona.

Plummer had 15 kills and hit .636 on Saturday. She had just one error in 22 swings.

Rubio believed that Plummer’s presence had another impact. Despite the fact that they’ve only won two matches since Sept. 21, the Wildcats drew 1,803 fans to the match during a week when Arizona soccer set a new record for attendance and Arizona women’s basketball had crowds of 3,450 and 4,425.

“There’s a community of people in Tucson who, regardless of the situation, I think Stanford’s a draw,” Rubio said. “Certainly everyone recognizes Stanford as being one of the best teams in the country, so they like to go see them. Kathryn Plummer played tonight. She hasn’t played for several weeks—six weeks, however long. I think the fact that she may have played played a part in it.

“But if this was another Pac-12 school outside of maybe the more marquee schools, our crowd probably wouldn’t have been as good. But Stanford will pull them in. And on a Saturday night, it’s the right night for us to play. And football being (on a bye week). So, I think all those things play into having a really good crowd. Now, if we hadn’t been injured for the last seven weeks and we were right in the mix of everything, who knows how many people we would have had.”

The coach is right that it was a special occasion, and there likely would have been a larger crowd if the team wasn’t in the midst of a losing streak. However, the fans have been showing up for home matches throughout the Pac-12 season.

In their other five home matches since conference play (and their losing streak) started, the Wildcats have averaged almost 1,400 fans per contest. That is only 125 fans per match fewer than during last year’s Pac-12 season when the Wildcats finished the season ranked No. 25 in the nation and went to the NCAA Tournament.

The support hasn’t helped the Wildcats get the results they had hoped would come this season. Still, Rubio doesn’t think that means his team is struggling.

“I don’t think our team is struggling as a team,” he said. “I think if we were struggling the attitudes would be different and effort level would be different. We’re just not winning.”