Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio was worried that a 3 p.m. start time would mean that the Wildcats’ match against No. 16 Utah would lack a crowd and energy. He couldn’t have been more accurate as the Utes won 3-0 (25-9, 26-24, 25-22) in a McKale Center that felt almost as if COVID-19 attendance restrictions had been imposed again.
After beating Arizona in three close sets last month in Salt Lake City, the Utes came out and controlled the Wildcats in front of 654 people in Tucson on Friday afternoon. The only matches with lower official attendance numbers this season were pre-conference games that didn’t charge admission or count attendance. A good number of those who were in attendance were Utah fans.
It was an unfortunate turn of events as junior libero Kamaile Hiapo passed the 1,000 career digs mark with few supporters in the arena.
Sophomore outside hitters Jaelyn Hodge and Sofia Maldonado Diaz both had double figures in kills. Hodge led the Wildcats with 12 kills on .200 hitting. Maldonado Diaz added 11 kills while hitting .176. Both had a block assist and Maldonado Diaz threw in a service ace to contribute an identical 12.5 points.
While the duo got stronger as the game went on, it was too much to ask them to match the outputs of super senior Dani Drews and senior Madelyn Robinson. Drews had 15 kills on .375 hitting. She added four aces, seven digs, and two total blocks. Robinson wasn’t far behind with 14 kills on .500 hitting, five digs, and one total block. Between the two of them, they contributed 34.5 points to the Utes’ effort.
Arizona went down without a whimper in the first set, failing to break 10 points in the frame. That appeared to be a wake-up call. They just didn’t have enough to overtake one of the Pac-12’s top teams.
The Wildcats looked like a different team as they stormed out in the second set. The Utes took the 4-3 lead, then the home team began to surge.
Arizona built a four-point lead on several occasions but ultimately could not hold it. Utah finally regained the advantage at 24-23. It took two set points, but the visitors eventually closed the set at 26-24 to take the 2-0 lead.
Arizona seemed to have gained some confidence from the close second set, but it was fleeting. The Wildcats went ahead 5-2 early in the final set, but a 6-0 run by Utah flipped the three-point lead in the Utes’ favor.
Arizona closed the Utah lead to a single point on two occasions, the last at 12-11. A 9-3 run by the Utes effectively ended the match by digging a hole that was just too deep for Arizona to crawl out of no matter how hard they tried. The Wildcats battled back, reeling Utah in until the lead was a mere 21-19. They could never get closer than two points, as the Utes used a 4-3 edge down the stretch to close out the match.
The Wildcats face the Colorado Buffaloes at noon on Sunday. Arizona defeated the Buffs in Boulder last month.