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Balanced team game lifts Arizona volleyball to victory over Colorado

Photo by Madison Farwell / Arizona Athletics

The trip to Colorado in October was a nightmare for Arizona volleyball. They still won the match in four sets. They didn’t have to worry about airports or canceled flights this time around, but the result was the same for the Wildcats as they defeated the Buffaloes again 3-1 (25-17, 19-25, 25-18, 32-30).

“It was so important because after a loss everyone wants to win or at least play good,” outside hitter Sofia Maldonado Diaz said. “The last two practices were so good. So before the game, we were like, ‘Okay, let’s just do the things that we were doing in practice.’”

Just as she was in Boulder, setter Emery Herman was a major factor in the Arizona win over Colorado. Last month, she had a career-high 21 digs against the Buffs. This time around, it was another double-double for the sophomore with 41 assists and 15 digs for Herman’s tenth double-double of the season and fifth in Pac-12 play.

It wasn’t just her setting and defense, though. Herman was also effective on the attack with six kills on 13 swings with only one attack error. She threw in three total blocks for 9.5 points.

Senior middle blocker Zyonna Fellows was a force for the Wildcats, as well. Fellows has said that she prefers blocking over attacking, but she did both for Arizona on Sunday. After an off-night against Utah on Friday night that her coach attributed partly to illness, she had seven kills and seven total blocks against Colorado on Sunday. Her 11 points tied her season-high set against California.

“Zyonna has the opportunity and the size and the experience to be more a part of the offense,” Rubio said. “So anytime we can get her the ball, that’s kind of a bonus. And it frees up the outside hitter, makes it so the blockers on the other side have to respect her and so they can’t just commit to the other outside hitter.”

Arizona’s pin hitters were both effective and efficient early in the match but struggled with errors as the game wore on. In the first set, the team hit .441, but that bottomed out to .125 in the second when the errors started to creep in.

“I thought that the first set was as clean a match as we have played,” Rubio said. “I was really pleased with how we executed from start to finish, from the serving, passing, the defense, all the fundamental components of the game. And I thought we were pretty dialed in. I thought in set two, we start to get a little distracted. And we started to kind of let go of the rope a little bit and we start making a ton of unforced errors. We start moving the scoreboard for the opposing team. We’re just making so many unforced errors. And so I think, once you lose that focus and that concentration, it is tough to get back.”

They did get it back to some degree, although not to the level of the first set. In the end, Puk Stubbe and Sofia Maldonado Diaz had double-doubles. Maldonado Diaz led the team with 15 kills on .244 hitting and threw in 11 digs for the double-double. She added four aces and three total blocks for a match-high 20.5 points.

Stubbe contributed 13 kills and 13 digs for her double-double but only hit .200. She added three total blocks for 14.5 points. Both Stubbe and Maldonado Diaz were responsible for two assists.

Jaelyn Hodge was close to double-digit kills with nine and an ace to give her 10 points on the day. She had seven digs and two assists but struggled on serve and serve receive where she had three service errors and four reception errors.

Rubio also felt that the typically consistent Kamaile Hiapo didn’t play her best match. Hiapo had seven assists, two aces, and 12 digs. The digs total was relatively low for a libero. She also had two service errors, but Rubio was more concerned about her passing. Two errors on serve receive were demonstrations of passing struggles that Rubio felt caused problems for the team later in the match.

“We were really dialed in, and then all of a sudden...,” Rubio said, trailing off. “ And part of that is they started to play a little bit better. Colorado started to serve tougher. Our passing, it wasn’t quite as sharp. Kamaile, at the back half of the match, certainly wasn’t a typical match for her because she wasn’t passing nearly as well as she normally does.”

In the end, it didn’t matter. After taking the first set relatively easily and dropping the second almost as easily, the Wildcats were able to regroup in the third and power through as things got tough in the fourth. Pulling things together was important both for the win on Sunday and for the future.

“(We need to) put together everything as a team and just be confident with ourselves,” Maldonado Diaz said.