In a match that she didn’t start, Sofia Maldonado Diaz had her best outing of the year. It just wasn’t quite enough for Arizona volleyball to overcome No. 18 Oregon. The Ducks used superior passing and serving to win in four sets (25-18, 19-25, 25-20, 26-24).
“Those guys were passing on a dime,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said of the Ducks. “I thought blocking was solid, considering that they were in system 90 percent of the time, which is hard for us to do anything when they’re in system. And even then, I thought our defense was good. Offense was good. We just couldn’t pass the ball well enough, long enough.”
Rubio opted to hold Maldonado Diaz out due to practice analytics that favored freshman Lauren Rumel. However, with things not going the Wildcats’ way early, Maldonado Diaz entered the game late in the first set. She saved an Oregon set point before the Ducks finally put things away.
It was one of her season-high 17 kills on .342 hitting. She also had five digs, a block assist, and 17.5 points.
Rubio said that he didn’t think not starting was extra motivation for Maldonado Diaz because he doesn’t think she needs extra motivation. She agreed that it wasn’t about motivation, but it did have an impact on her.
“I was mad but in a good way,” Maldonado Diaz said. “And I was thinking like, if I go in I need to crush it. I was telling Emery [Herman], send me the ball because I also want to show that I need to start. It’s not just competing against each other on the team. It’s also to show other positions anyone that is on the bench going in has to play good and respond.”
Not only did Maldonado Diaz step up on offense, but she was effective on serve. Last weekend, she missed a crucial serve late in the five-set loss to Washington State. This weekend, she stepped up to serve with Oregon holding three match points. She served four straight points, erasing the Ducks’ match points and tying things at 24-24 before Oregon once again went ahead 25-24.
“It’s hard in those moments because you have a lot of pressure,” she said. “We work a lot on serve, like serving in those moments—pressure and serve. I was like, I need to serve good. Otherwise, if I serve easy, they’re gonna kill it.”
Rubio was very pleased with his pins. Not only did Maldonado Diaz have a great match, but he felt that Jaelyn Hodge and Dilara Gedikoglu were both critical for different reasons.
While Hodge only had nine kills on .189 hitting, Rubio noted that she had more focus on her from Oregon.
“I thought Jaelyn really played a nice match, too and she was consistently playing against the bigger blocks,” Rubio said. “Even though her numbers aren’t like Sofia’s, she still really did a nice job. We’ve been working so much on the outside hitters and tonight was a good example. If we just could have passed the ball a little bit better then it is kind of a different game for us.”
Gedikoglu had seven kills on .294 hitting. She was even more important in serve receive.
“Two matches now, Washington State match and tonight,” Rubio said of Gedikoglu. “Against a really good serving team, she’s got to be out there. We just can’t function without her.”
While Arizona outhit Oregon as a team .194 to .188 and was pretty even on blocking with 11 blocks to the Ducks’ 13, the serving and passing decided the match. The Ducks had nine aces against eight service errors. The Wildcats had 10 service errors and no aces.
“We hit for a higher percentage than they did and that shows you that we did a nice job blocking against those guys,” Rubio said. “So, I’m really happy. Would be nice to walk away with a win. I mean, it’s frustrating not winning. And we just got to get a little bit better in certain areas. There’s just leaks and you’re trying to stop one leak and another thing kind of brings up.”