The story of Arizona volleyball this season has been one of trying to get its young players all playing at their best at the same time. That’s especially true of sophomores Sofia Maldonado Diaz and Jaelyn Hodge. On Friday, the Wildcat left side hitters finally put it all together in a 3-0 (25-19, 25-14, 25-23) victory over No. 15 Stanford.
“Our outside hitting, both Jaeyln and Sofia both had good nights,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said.
Maldonado Diaz led the team with 15 kills on .281 hitting. She also had an assist and five digs. She led the match with 15 points.
Hodge was especially strong at the beginning of the match. In the first set, she had five kills on .500 hitting. She ended the night with seven kills on .190 hitting, an assist, a service ace, five digs, and three total blocks. Two of her blocks were solo.
While Rubio didn’t think Puk Stubbe had her best night, she still contributed 13 points to the team’s effort. She finished with 12 kills on .188 hitting. She also had an assist, seven digs, and two total blocks.
Arizona volleyball swept Stanford last season, but it wasn’t a usual season. The Cardinal came in with almost no practice and just eight players available. This season, it was back to the old Stanford as the Cardinal dominated the Wildcats earlier this month.
That wasn’t the case on Friday night, as the visitors played without three major contributors and had another injury during the match. The Cardinal were without starting setter Kami Miner and opposite Kendall Kipp. They also played without defensive specialist Alex Lougeay, who started the match against Arizona in early October. Backup setter Selina Xu appeared to be limping in the first set and eventually left the match.
“We’ve all been there,” Rubio said. “I feel bad for them...that said, I’ve been handed many losses by Stanford, so anytime I can beat Stanford, regardless of the circumstances, it’s always a good one. They set the standard in our conference for as long as I’ve been here.”
It also gives Arizona a boost in their postseason hopes. RPI doesn’t care who wasn’t on the court for Stanford. The Cardinal are No. 17 in RPI, making the win a very valuable one for the Wildcats.
“From an RPI standpoint, it’s the best win of the year for us,” Rubio said. “We got to get a few more like that. So we’ll see how it goes.”
Arizona came out on fire, running to a 15-7 lead before the media timeout. Against many of the top teams this season, the Wildcats have done well for the first 15 points, then they have come back to earth. This time, they kept going.
“It felt like everything was working,” setter Emery Herman said. “Everything was just going well, everyone was confident, everyone was excited to play. We were really prepared for the game.”
The players fed off the excitement that came with their early success, pushing it even further as they took the second set by a dominant score of 25-14.
“I felt so confident,” Maldonado Diaz said.
Stanford tried to come back late in the third, closing Arizona’s five-point lead at 21-16 to a single point at 24-23. That letdown is something that young teams can have, Rubio said. This time, the Wildcats were too far ahead for it to matter and Stubbe’s final kill put the punctuation on the match.
Now, the players have to avoid a letdown when California comes to town on Sunday. After losing to Arizona State on Friday, the Golden Bears are 7-15 overall and 0-11 in Pac-12 play. Rubio believes that Cal could be the most dangerous match the Wildcats have had this season both because of the big win over Stanford and because the Bears are desperate to break through in conference play.
“Dave, after this game, said that they’re a whole different team,” Herman said. “And we just need to expect them to come out better. They have new people playing. So just knowing we’re in the Pac-12. In the Pac-12, everyone’s good.”