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Arizona volleyball’s new faces get first taste of competition in Red-Blue match

“I enjoy this group,” head coach Dave Rubio said.

The Red (or White) team gathers during the Arizona volleyball Red-Blue match on Nov. 19, 2020 at McKale Center.
Courtesy of Arizona Athletics

It’s a big task to integrate nine new faces and two redshirt freshmen into a lineup even if they do include the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation. Months of work on fundamentals helped somewhat, but Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio didn’t get a chance to see his squad in full competition until the Red-Blue match on Nov. 19.

The Blue team won 3-1, but players moved between the squads throughout the scrimmage. Rubio emerged encouraged, but thinking that there was still a ways to go.

Paige (Whipple) and Kamaile (Hiapo) and the players who started last year, I thought they were pretty consistent and confident on the fly,” he said. “Paige and Kamaile were terrific, and Malina (Kalei Ua) was really solid. The new players are the ones that are not quite as confident and sure of themselves, and I think that’s pretty normal. That’s just going to take some time.”

Whipple, the lone four-year senior on the team, had 11 kills and 8 digs for the match. Hiapo led the team with 17 digs and added 8 assists on just her second day out of quarantine.

The setting was a particular focus for Rubio. Earlier in the week, he talked about the particular challenges for that position. After losing the underrated, steady Julia Patterson to graduation, the team is breaking in two new setters in freshman Emery Herman and grad transfer Akia Warrior.

“It’s been difficult for the setters,” Rubio said. “I think in the initial training, learning how to kind of play the system that we’re in. It’s a much more difficult system for the setters than it is anybody else, but they’re starting to kind of get the right speed of the sets and the right rhythm of the sets down. But I think it’s a good sign to say that we’re at least in a position where we can scrimmage and I can feel like everybody has enough knowledge, enough repetition within the system to be able to at least do that.”

The effect of those extra demands were visible to Rubio on Thursday, but he was encouraged by what he saw.

“We need to develop a little more consistency in the setting, which is really what I’m focused on,” he said. “But overall, I’m kind of pleased where we are. But we still got a ways to go if we’re going to end up competing and be competitive within the conference.”

Warrior had 28 assists on 91 attempts. Her three errors meant she set her hitters up for kills on 27.5 percent of her attempts. She threw in 8 kills with a .333 hitting percentage and 6 digs on top of it.

Herman set her teammates up 35 times on 99 attempts with no setting errors. That gave her a 35.4 percent success rate. She also had 8 digs. For a freshman in her first Red-Blue match, it showed the promise that the coaches see in her.

While her setting was more successful than Warrior’s, Herman’s attacking was not. She found the floor 4 times on 12 attempts, throwing in 2 errors for a hitting percentage of .167. That’s of less concern simply because it’s not a major part of the job.

The other newcomers showed their age and experience levels.

Dilara Gedikoglu, last season’s American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year out of Tulsa, stood out on offense. She led the team with 17 kills on 41 attacks. With only 5 errors, she hit .293. The sophomore from Turkey also had 2 assists and 8 digs for a well-rounded effort.

Fellow transfer Merle Weidt, a German middle blocker who played the last two seasons at Rutgers, also showed why she is a critical piece of the puzzle at a position that is thin. Weidt led the team in blocks with seven. She added eight kills on a .400 hitting percentage.

“I thought Dilara really played well,” Rubio said. “Very solid. I thought Merle was very solid. Those aren’t freshmen. Those guys are incoming transfers, and so they played with I think a level of competence that really showed today. I think the freshmen—so Sofia (Maldonado Diaz) and Jaelyn (Hodge) and China (Rai Crouch) and those guys—are not quite as fluid and play with quite the aggressiveness as they will when we come back. But overall, I like what we’re doing and and feel like we have a chance to be pretty good with time.”