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Young hitters shine again as Arizona volleyball sweeps UC San Diego to cap Cactus Classic

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Arizona volleyball completed an unbeaten weekend Saturday with a sweep (25-17, 25-13, 25-16) of UC San Diego. The Wildcats were once again led by their young trio of freshman Puk Stubbe and sophomores Jaelyn Hodge and Sofia Maldonado Diaz.

Hodge had 13 kills on a crisp .344 hitting percentage, Maldonado Diaz added six aces and seven kills on .377 hitting, and Stubbe pitched in with five kills and three aces.

The Wildcats hit .380 as a team, their best mark since Sept. 20, 2019 against Alabama State.

“We have really good team chemistry this year,” Hodge said. “We’re all just very comfortable together. It seems like we’ve been playing together for a long time.”

UA head coach Dave Rubio is excited about building around them over the next few years.

“They’re all three different types of athletes,” he said. “Jaelyn is so much fun to watch because she’s so fast and explosive, like a pogo stick out there. Sofia is much craftier, not as high, but has really got some good hand-to-ball contact. And then Puk is kind of in between. Good jumper, maybe not as fast and as explosive, but she could put her hand on the ball, and I still think we have a long way to go before Puk feels really comfortable here. I think once she really gets the system and establishes herself and feels good and comfortable, I think she’ll to go to another level.”

Just like Hodge is this season. The former Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year has 38 kills in three matches, easily the most on the team.

“She’s worked really hard throughout the summer to become a full-time six-rotation player and it really showed this weekend,” Rubio said. “She passed well, she defended well, and she attacked well. I thought Sofia Maldonado did as well. Her passing isn’t nearly as far along yet, but it’s nice to not have to sub those guys out. The more I don’t have to sub those guys, it furthers their development that much more.”

Sophomore setter Emery Herman had a big weekend too, logging 84 assists and 12 kills in the three matches.

“She’s the thing that everyone revolves around,” Rubio said. “She’s involved in so much of the decision making, the flow of the game. You’ve got to have someone who’s got the right personality for that, and someone who’s got the right brain for that and she kind of embodies everything. The thing she is in the process of developing is just a stronger leadership (role).”

Even though the Wildcats (3-0) swept the Cactus Classic, Rubio, always a tough critic, said his team had too many missed serves and errors on Saturday.

“I thought the weekend went well for us, you know, based on the results,” he said. “The execution was okay. Today was a little slow and methodical, not a lot of rhythm, but the afternoon matches tend to have a whole different dynamic to it.”

The Wildcats now head to Las Cruces, New Mexico to face UTEP, New Mexico State and Northwestern in the Springhill Suites Invitational, which begins Friday and runs through Saturday. It represents Arizona’s first road test and first match against a major-conference team.

“Every weekend we step up a level of competition, so we just got to continue to improve,” Rubio said.

Postmatch interviews

Dave Rubio

Jaelyn Hodge