The crowds are not there this year, but that doesn’t mean that road wins are easy to come by. Arizona volleyball knew that well as they headed to California. The Wildcats had yet to win a road match this season. For the second time in recent weeks, they tried to break that winless streak against a team that had only one win.
Against Arizona State, they fell in five sets after rushing out to a 2-0 lead. This time it worked as Arizona (8-9) took the match in three sets (25-19, 25-15, 25-17) over the Golden Bears (1-16).
“Nice to be able to win on the road,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said.
It was not a terribly efficient night for the Wildcats on offense. They ended the night hitting .176 as a team and averaged just 11 kills per set. Instead, it was the blocking and serving that carried them to victory. Arizona finished the night with nine total blocks and nine service aces.
“I was telling the players just now at our team meeting that I think for 80 percent of the match, I was really pleased,” Rubio said. “I mean, just at our ability to function at a more consistent and higher level, which is nice to see. And we’ve come a long way since the season started. I told them how proud I was of them. The last 20 percent, though, we were up big in set three, and then felt like we really lost sight of the goal and lost our concentration. And we started making uncharacteristic type errors.”
Paige Whipple led Arizona with seven kills, but only hit .074. She added an assist, five digs and four total blocks. Her 9.5 points were second on the team.
Just behind her were Sofia Maldonado Diaz and Zyonna Fellows who contributed six kills each. Maldonado Diaz added four service aces and a block to end the night with a match high of 11 points. Fellows was third on the team with nine points stemming from six kills and a match-high six blocks. She also had four digs.
As with Whipple, neither Maldonado Diaz nor Fellows were very efficient. Maldonado Diaz hit .167 while Fellows ended the night at .125.
Emery Herman added five kills to the offensive effort, picking her spots wisely. She ended the night with zero attack errors and hit .714. The freshman setter also had 25 assists, five digs and a block. It was good for both the team and her development.
“Part of setter training is for them to create opportunities for them to score,” Rubio said. “Once she’s front row, since there’s not another attacker there, she’s got to put herself in position to score. And so the key is when she chooses to do it. It’s been a work in progress for her. Tonight was nice to see her be able to experience some success. She still struggles with just when and where to dump the ball. She’s getting much, much better.”
This season has been about improving for the fall for all of the players, and Rubio has seen that. He still felt that the performance against Cal was not nearly as polished as it needs to be.
“I hate being negative Nancy all the time, so I try to throw in a few words of positive comments,” Rubio said. “Reality is that for us to be an upper part of the conference type of team, we need to continue to focus on getting better offensively. I think our defense has gotten better. And certainly our serving has gotten better. And I think we’re a solid blocking team. But I think the offense needs to kind of pick it up a notch.”
The Wildcats have raised their profile since the opening weekend when they were easily defeated by Utah. With a victory over Cal on Sunday, they would finally reach the .500 mark. Still, there’s a long ways to go if they want to get into this year’s 48-team NCAA Tournament, and they only have a few weeks to get there.
“I think if it was a 64-team bracket, we set ourselves up nicely to be a serious consideration for that,” Rubio said. “But the problem with us is we don’t have any significant wins. Had we beat Washington at least one match, then that would have been I think enough for at least people to start talking about it. I think we’re gonna have to win out just to be in the conversation. That’s what I think. USC at home, and then beating Washington State up there. I mean, we’re going to have to have a lot of help. Maybe ask Washington to send a few of their players.”
If Arizona wants to get that chance, the next step comes on Sunday. They can’t stumble.
“I don’t think it’s beyond us to beat (Washington State),” Rubio said. “But right now, it’s so far ahead of us. I haven’t even thought about it. You know, right now, still pretty focused on what we need to do next against Cal. I mean, that’s the reality. If we don’t take care of business and play well enough to beat them on Sunday, then it doesn’t really matter.”