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Arizona volleyball notebook: On national team tryouts, transfers, and international recruits

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

It may be the off-season, but things haven’t stopped in the world of Arizona volleyball. Transfers, an invite to open tryouts for the USA national program and high praise for an incoming freshman are just some of the stories swirling around a program that has undergone radical transformation since their season ended.

Kamaile Hiapo heads to Team USA tryouts

Kamaile Hiapo had an impressive freshman season for the Wildcats, even if it wasn’t quite what she signed up for. The decorated player out of Mesa’s Skyline High School was a prolific outside hitter in high school. At just 5-foot-7, that didn’t appear to be in the cards in college, though.

Hiapo came in as a defensive specialist and quickly ascended to starting libero when senior Makenna Martin was injured before the season. Other injuries eventually led her back to the front row as an outside hitter when Arizona ran out of bigs.

She ended the season with the program record for digs by a freshman (378). At 3.53 digs/set, she led all freshmen in the stat and finished ninth in the Pac-12.

Hiapo took that versatility to an open tryout for Team USA this past weekend. They are used to select members for the senior national team and the U.S. Collegiate National Team.

Wildcat alumna Julia Patterson was selected for the U.S. Collegiate National Team in 2018. She was part of the team that went 4-1 as they toured China in May of that year.

The incoming transfers are (mostly) official

Last month, the rumors swirled that Arizona would be welcoming three transfers, almost replacing the four the team lost to outgoing transfers. At the time, only middle blocker Merle Weidt could be independently verified as one of those newcomers. It has since been announced that not only is Weidt now a Wildcat, but she has been joined by former Tulsa outside hitter Dilara Gedikoglu.

Gedikoglu is a big get for coach Dave Rubio and his program. The native of Alanya, Turkey was the American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year last season.

The Hurricanes hoped she would be part of the foundation of an improving program. Last season, Tulsa got to the semifinals of the National Volleyball Invitational Championship—the women’s volleyball equivalent of the WNIT—and hoped to take further strides in 2020.

There was good reason, too. Gedikoglu was good for 4.10 kills per set. That placed her 39th in Division I and fourth among freshmen.

Although it was against much tougher competition and under very adverse circumstances, Paige Whipple led the Wildcats with 3.94 kills per sets last year. That ranked 56th in the nation.

Weidt was one of several members of the Rutgers program who opted to leave after a coaching change. The middle blocker serves a position of need for the Wildcats, who will have only rising junior Zyonna Fellows returning in the middle.

As a junior who has played against the tough competition in the Big Ten, Weidt gives the Wildcats experience they will need as their highly-touted freshmen get acclimated to the college game.

The Wildcats have not officially announced the addition of the third transfer. However, in December, Belmont setter Akia Warrior announced on her Instagram account that she would be joining Arizona in the summer of 2020 as a grad transfer.

With only one setter on the roster—freshman Emery Herman—the Wildcats can certainly use the addition of an experienced setter for a year. Although Herman is already on campus as an early enrollee, it’s a big ask to expect a freshman to carry the load at such a critical position in a conference like the Pac-12.

International flavor

International players are common around NCAA volleyball. As Arizona fans know, they’ve become common around NCAA basketball, too. They just haven’t always been common in Arizona volleyball over the past 30 seasons. That’s about to change.

“In my years here, I think we’ve had like two,” Rubio said. “We will have three in just one year.”

In addition to transfers Gedikoglu from Turkey and Weidt from Germany, the Wildcats are welcoming incoming freshman Sofia Maldonado from Mexico. The versatile big made quite an impression at the SCVA Las Vegas Classic recently.

“If Maldonado was playing for an American club she would very likely be considered the top recruit in the country,” wrote Chris Tobolski of Volleyball Mag.