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Arizona volleyball beats ASU in straight sets thanks to season-high hitting percentage

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Arizona volleyball used a balanced attack to sweep Arizona State (25-19, 25-19, 25-20) on Friday in McKale Center. Five different Wildcats tallied at least seven kills as they hit .369 as a team, their best mark of the season.

Freshman sensation Sofia Maldonado Diaz led the way 12 kills on 22 swings. Seniors Merle Weidt and Paige Whipple had nine kills apiece. Freshman Jaelyn Hodge and sophomore Zyonna Fellows chipped in with eight and seven, respectively.

“Certainly that was one of the real bright spots is that it was our best offensive match,” head coach Dave Rubio said. “We scored 16 points in each set, that part’s a huge difference for us. So we’re making some strides there. We need to get better in some areas that I think that we can get better at immediately, like serving in out of a timeout. The third set, I think every timeout they called, we ended up missing the serve. So there’s a few things we can certainly clean up, but overall I was pleased with the offensive production.”

The win snaps a two-match losing streak to the Sun Devils, though Arizona has still won 10 of the last 14 in this series. With both teams breaking in several new players and fans unable to be in attendance, Rubio isn’t sure if his team actually understands the significance of the rivalry.

“I don’t think their players do, either,” he said. “I mean, there’s a lot of difference when you’re bringing in international players and they don’t have a real feel for it on either side. Plus, with the environment, even though we had [families] today, it felt like it did when we didn’t have fans. The rivalry in two years, or even next year, will be way different. The fans will be in the stands. I think the players will be much more bought into the spirit of the schools and what the meaning is to be in Tucson and Phoenix, and I think then it becomes much more of a spirited rivalry than it is right now.”

Don’t tell that to Weidt. The Rutgers grad transfer had six kills on eight swings in the first set alone, making her presence known in her first Territorial Cup game. The senior has been filling in nicely at middle blocker after freshman China Rae Crouch suffered a concussion three matches ago and has been out ever since.

“I think we were just all pretty committed to play and we’re all fired up to beat ASU because it is our rivalry,” Weidt said. “I think we just had a really good energy today that definitely helped us.”

All three sets were strikingly similar. The two teams went back and forth until around the midpoint when Arizona grabbed a narrow lead and never relinquished it.

The Wildcats had 17 kills in both the first and second sets, then 15 in the last one. Whipple had four of her nine kills in the final set, including the game-sealing kill. It was one of 38 assists for freshman setter Emery Herman, who also contributed four kills.

Rubio said ASU has struggled in serve-receive this season and Arizona took full advantage of it.

“The key for us was that we really served tough,” Weidt said. “And when we serve tough, we got them out of system, we got a lot of downballs and freeballs, and we were able to just really use them and score on them. And I think that’s what actually got us on those runs a lot of times.”

The Wildcats (5-8) and Sun Devils (1-10) will meet up again Sunday in Tempe. Normally Arizona would drive up Saturday, stay the night in Tempe and take on ASU the next day.

But because Sunday’s match doesn’t start until 4 p.m., the Wildcats will practice in Tucson on Saturday, sleep in their own beds and have breakfast together Sunday morning before heading up I-10. Rubio said that was the players’ decision.

Either way, the goal doesn’t change.