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Arizona volleyball looks for reliable passing as Pac-12 play opens against ASU, Oregon State

Dilara Gedikoglu practices during the Spring 2021 season
Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

Ready or not, Pac-12 volleyball opens this week. For the teams in the middle of the conference, “or not” might be the most accurate feeling.

“I think that teams like Arizona State, Arizona, and probably several more in the conference, are still trying to figure out some things and trying to find some answers to things,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said.

When it comes to what the Wildcats (8-3) will face against the Sun Devils (7-4), Rubio isn’t even sure which kind of offense ASU will run. Over the course of the season, it has run both a 5-1 offense with one setter and a 6-2 offense with sophomore Ella Snyder and junior Shannon Shields sharing setting duties. With the 6-2, the setter who is currently in the back row always sets; when she rotates to the front she becomes a hitter.

“The 6-2 is a much easier system to set,” Rubio said. “You have three front-row hitters the entire time, and so the set selection is much easier. The siding out ability, theoretically, is much easier. There’s just more margin for error with the 6-2.”

Regardless of which system the Sun Devils go with on Thursday, Rubio wants to see solid passing from his bigs. Last year, he relied on Paige Whipple for that, and he’s still trying to find all of the skills she brought to the table in one of his young players.

“We lose Paige, who was our one six-rotation player, and who really was able to kind of stabilize our serve receive—her and Kamaile (Hiapo),” Rubio said. “And now we still have Kamaile, which is terrific, but now we’re trying to get—whether it’s Puk (Stubbe) or Jaelyn (Hodge) or Sofia (Maldonado Diaz) and Dilara (Gedikoglu)—all the time in there and be able to become a six-rotation player. From a back-row standpoint, a passing standpoint, Dilara’s the furthest along.”

The problem for the Wildcats is that there are trade-offs when playing Gedikoglu instead of one of the other three. She is the smallest of the four, presenting issues on the attack.

“She has to be a lot craftier,” Rubio said. “Her attack selection has to be much greater. There’s less margin for error because she’s not jumping as high. And so where Jaeyln can get away with things simply because she’s so athletic, and the same with Sofia Maldonado. But Dilara, it’s got to be much better at picking and attacking off the edges of the block, which is harder. She’s got to be better at hitting the ball around the block, which is at times harder as well.”

Last season, Arizona handled ASU easily at McKale Center. Later in the weekend, they went to Tempe and looked to be cruising to another straight-set victory when the Sun Devils found their groove. ASU came back to take the match 3-2 (26-28, 12-25, 25-16, 25-22, 15-10).

“It’s like they left the building, put on a new uniform, and came back a brand new team,” Rubio said.” I mean, it was amazing the transformation that happened between game two and game three, just in terms of their demeanor and their confidence and how much more aggressive they were. It was like a completely different team.”

Rubio thinks ASU is a better serve receive team this season primarily due to the improved passing of Marta Lavinska and Iman Isanovic. The Wildcats need to match that.

For the freshmen, it will be their first look at what Pac-12 play means. Up to this point, they have only the word of their teammates to go on.

“Every game is going to be a challenge,” freshman middle blocker Nicole Briggs said.

For the returners, they just don’t want to see any repeats.

“(We have to) try not to let what happened last year happen again,” sophomore setter Emery Herman said.

Arizona State (7-4, 0-0 Pac-12)

Date and time: Thursday, Sept. 23 at 6 p.m. MST

Location: Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Ariz.

Viewing information: The match will air on Pac-12 Arizona and Pac-12 Network. Stats will be available at ASU Live Stats.

History: ASU has won three of the last four matches against Arizona after losing the previous five in a row.

Oregon State (2-9, 0-1 Pac-12)

Date and time: Sunday, Sept. 26 at 12 p.m. MST

Location: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Viewing information: The match will air on Pac-12 Arizona. Stats will be available at Arizona Live Stats.

History: Arizona has won the last three in a row against the Beavers. The Wildcats are 52-18 all-time against Oregon State.

The Beavers lost their rivalry match Wednesday against Oregon to open their Pac-12 season. The No. 13 Ducks took the match in straight sets.