Arizona volleyball will be breaking in new starters in the middle next season. Middle blockers Zyonna Fellows and Merle Weidt head into their final game as Wildcats in their rivalry match against Arizona State on Saturday. Joining them will be defensive specialist Malina Kalei Ua.
It will be the end of a four-year run at Arizona for Fellows and Kalei Ua. While Fellows has spent more time on the court, it was Kalei Ua who first broke into the Wildcats’ rotation as a freshman back in 2018. She has been an integral part of the serve rotation during her time at Arizona, as well as getting spot starts at libero.
Fellows came in at a time when Arizona had experienced middles. She spent two years behind Devyn Cross and Shardonee Hayes, appearing in 28 sets her freshman year. In her sophomore season, numerous injuries on the team provided an opening for her to get more regular time on the court and she appeared in 80 sets. She has been a regular starter at the position for the past two seasons.
This season, Fellows leads the Wildcats with 1.00 blocks per set. That’s good for 12th in the Pac-12.
Unlike Fellows and Kalei Ua, it won’t be Weidt’s final collegiate match. The Rutgers transfer will finish her year with Arizona, then she will head off to the University of Denver to play the extra year granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic. Head coach Dave Rubio said that the grad transfer can’t get the graduate program she wants at Arizona, so she made the decision to transfer again.
Weidt came in as a reserve, playing behind China Rai Crouch for the first part of the spring season. Last year, Rubio said he knew that she was probably not happy with that, but she never showed signs of frustration on the sidelines or in practice.
Weidt took over the position when Crouch was injured halfway through last season and she hasn’t looked back. Her .377 hitting percentage is third in the Pac-12 this season and she stands at No. 23 with 0.78 blocks per set. She has hit at least .400 in 13 matches.
The Wildcats are trying to send their seniors out on a high note by finishing above .500 on the season and sweeping the rival Sun Devils. Arizona stands at 15-15 on the season and 7-12 in Pac-12 play. Their opponent is 14-16 this year and an identical 7-12 in the conference.
Arizona defeated ASU 3-2 in Desert Financial Arena to open Pac-12 play on Sept. 23, but the Sun Devils aren’t the same team they were at the beginning of the conference season. Since then, they have defeated then-No. 14 UCLA, No. 18 Utah, and No. 15 Stanford. They have also pushed Oregon, Washington, and Washington State to five sets when those opponents were ranked in the top 21.
One reason for the improvement is the emergence of freshman outside hitter Geli Cyr. The 5-foot-10 pin played in two sets against the Wildcats two months ago, but her appearances have become more regular in the latter part of conference play. She averages 2.02 kills per set, getting double-digit kills in eight Pac-12 matches.
With ASU headed for a finish below .500 and Arizona with an RPI far outside the bubble, neither team is playing for the postseason. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other motivations, especially in a rivalry match.
“I think there’s different motivations going into each game,” sophomore setter Emery Herman said. “There’s a different personal side to each game... Like, the older girls have a different version of it than we do. Obviously, it’s like we’re not going to lose to ASU. That’s not gonna happen.”
The Wildcats can improve their all-time record against the Sun Devils to 58-46 with a win. In the past 10 years, Arizona has gone 13-8 against its in-state foe.
When and where
The match starts at 12 p.m. MST at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
The match will air on Pac-12 Arizona.