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Arizona volleyball can’t find a way to win against Washington State

Dilara Gedikoglu (18), Sofia Maldonado Diaz (2), and Ava Tortorello (14) lead Arizona out of the tunnel at McKale Center on Oct. 14, 2022.
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

It was a tall order for the Arizona Wildcats. They were headed into Bohler Gym where Washington State had won 10 straight volleyball matches. Cougars head coach Jen Greeny was going for her 200th win. UA put everything into trying to spoil the party, but WSU was able to hold on for a five-set victory (22-25, 26-24, 23-25, 25-16, 16-14).

“We’re really a good team,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said. “I mean, that’s the other thing. We’re getting better and it’s just frustrating that we’re so close and at the end of the day, you just have to play better at the end.”

The Wildcats got strong games from Sofia Maldonado Diaz and Jaelyn Hodge, but they weren’t able to get the most from Puk Stubbe. Last week, Rubio made some changes to which positions the three pins played and when they were subbed out. The changes seemed to have paid off against Stanford and California, but Stubbe once again disappeared against the Cougars.

With Stubbe struggling, Rubio went to senior outside hitter Dilara Gedikoglu. She was subbed in late in the first set and played most of the rest of the match. Gedikoglu had a season-high 10 kills and 12 points. She added two block assists, an ace, and six digs.

“Puk is a major passer in the serve receive game, so they’re gonna serve her first,” Rubio said. “She really struggled. And then offensively she wasn’t scoring and so it was nice that Dilara got a chance to really play. She certainly made a difference. The passing was terrific and the scoring was really good. So, she really played well tonight.”

Maldonado Diaz continued with her solid play from last week. The junior had a double-double with 14 kills on .243 hitting and 11 digs. She added a service ace and a block assist.

Maldonado Diaz had her difficulties, though. She accounted for three receiving errors and three service errors in a match that turned on just a few points.

Hodge narrowly missed a double-double with a team-high 16 kills and nine digs. She had three total blocks including one solo block, giving her 18 points on the night.

However, like Maldonado Diaz, Hodge had some difficulties with errors. Hodge had four service errors to go with no aces. She also contributed nine hitting errors, helping to drag her hitting percentage down to .149.

Rubio felt the serving errors from his team, especially those from his best servers, were especially damaging to the Wildcats’ chances.

“You can’t miss 14 serves,” he said. “We missed 14 serves. We missed quite a few in set four, so it’s a little bit skewed, but set five you can’t miss serves. I mean, Sofia missed a critical serve, and she’s one of our best servers. It wasn’t even close either. I mean, it was just a bad miss and at a crucial time. We missed a couple really easy digs at the end.”

That service error gave Washington State its first match point.

With so little between the two teams, every little error hurt. Apart from the fourth set, Arizona and Washington State were extremely evenly matched.

The critical difference was that the Cougars had players like Laura Jansen stepping up with 27 kills on .370 hitting. They had four players contribute at least 15 points each while Arizona only had two reach that plateau.

“Right now our best players need to step up and play their best when that’s needed, which is during the critical moments, especially in the fifth set,” Rubio said. “It’s just unfortunate that we had some really good performances, but it’s kind of lost in the loss.”

The first three sets were extremely close. Arizona never trailed in the first, while Washington State last trailed at 5-4 in the second. The teams traded the lead in the third, but neither could put much space between itself and the opponent.

The fourth was different, though. Arizona seemed to “let go of the rope a little bit,” in Rubio’s words. Washington State took a very easy 25-16 set to force a fifth.

Arizona fell behind by four at 12-8 in the fifth before going on a 4-0 run to tie it at 12. The Wildcats couldn’t push ahead, though. Eventually, it was the Cougars who found a way to string two points together and end the match victorious.

“We just haven’t learned to win,” Rubio said. “There’s no consolation in coming close anymore, and I told the players, we have to learn to win. I said the first way to winning is learning how not to lose.”