With things not going their way in the early part of the season, Arizona volleyball needed to get wins where they could. Facing another young team who brought just nine players to Tucson seemed like a prime opportunity.
The Wildcats seized that opportunity with a straight-set victory over the Oregon State Beavers by the score of 25-22, 25-19, 26-24.
“It wasn’t the cleanest match on either side, but it was good for us to play well enough to win the match,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said. “We started off a little slow, I thought, but it was a good match for us to gain some confidence.”
With two very young teams on the floor, getting the win and the confidence may be the best either coach could have hoped for.
Like Arizona, Oregon State is heavily reliant on freshmen. Typically, the Beavers have seven freshmen, two sophomores, a junior, and two seniors. On Friday night, they were missing senior opposite Maddie Goings, so they relied on a group of just nine players—six freshmen, a sophomore, a junior, and a senior.
That’s not much different than the side the Wildcats rolled out. With senior Paige Whipple missing time with injury, the Wildcats started a group of two juniors, two sophomores, and three freshmen. The only senior available was backup setter Akia Warrior.
Freshman hitter Sofia Maldonado Diaz said through a translator that getting used to having Whipple out was an adjustment for the entire team. They’re just trying to figure out how to make it work without her until she comes back.
It may not have been pretty, but the young group found a way to do it on Friday night.
Maldonado Diaz had another strong match on the offensive side with a match-high 16 kills while hitting .297. She also showed that she’s becoming more comfortable in the back row with 10 digs, giving her a double-double.
On the serve, setter Emery Herman came up big with four aces. She added three kills, 33 assists, six digs, and a block.
“The strengths of our team are serving and passing,” Rubio said. “I think that when it comes down to it, every server that we put on the floor has the opportunity to create some type of authentic opportunity for us. We’re gonna put some serving pressure on the opposing team.”
As for the passing aspect, defensive specialist Malina Kalei Ua started in place of Whipple, giving the Wildcats a boost in the back row.
Jaelyn Hodge and Dilara Gedikoglu helped fill in for the offense missing with Whipple’s absence. Hodge contributed eight kills, two digs, and a block.
Gedikoglu threw in seven kills, two assists, an ace, 10 digs and two solo blocks. Her 10 points were second on the team only to Maldonado’s 16.5.
“I thought Dilara, who started out slow, really came through in the middle and at the end,” Rubio said. “She really struggled early on in set one, really fighting herself just internally. And then she kind of worked her way out of it. So, I was really proud of her ability to do that.”
That was important for the Wildcats because things got close in the end.
Oregon State won the first two points of the match, but Arizona quickly overtook them. The Wildcats would maintain a lead until late in the opening set when the Beavers tied things up at 22 apiece. The home team then took the final three points to go up one set to none.
In the second set, the Wildcats didn’t allow the Beavers to make any comebacks. Arizona steadily built a lead, eventually taking a seven-point advantage at 24-17. Oregon State staved off two set points, but the hole was too big for them to do much more.
Standing just one set from victory, Arizona ran into some problems. Oregon State controlled the first half of the third set, building a 17-10 lead.
The Wildcats were able to chip away on the back of an 11-4 run. The Beavers earned a set point at 24-23, but they couldn’t maintain it. Arizona won three of the final four points to close out the match.
“We’ve all seen it before and I told the players young teams, when they’re up two to zero, tend to let down,” Rubio said. “And that’s exactly what happened. When we were down by five or six points in the middle of that set, we fought our way back. The good news is that Oregon State is a young team, too. Normally, if you’re playing against an experienced team, they’re not gonna let you back in like Oregon State had done.... I mean that’s the thing. They’re starting four freshmen. We’re starting four freshmen. So, it’s kind of a battle of attrition and youth and inexperience.”
This time, it went in Arizona’s favor.