The Arizona Wildcats extended California’s losing streak in Pac-12 volleyball matches to 52 in a row, but it wasn’t easy. The Golden Bears fought back after being dominated in the first set but eventually dropped yet another match by a score of 3-2 (25-13, 24-26, 22-25, 25-14, 15-9). It was their fourth straight five-set loss.
“Cal’s obviously very well-coached and the kids are still playing hard,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said. “I always think that’s a great indication of good coaching when the kids are still believing what the coach has to say.”
Cal’s Lydia Grote did everything to keep her team from going down to yet another defeat. She took 86 swings against Arizona less than a week after taking 94 in a five-set match at USC.
Arizona just had too many weapons and they were able to keep Grote from finding the kind of success she did in the match against the Trojans. On Sunday, she had 28 kills in five sets against USC. On Thursday, she had 18 kills but 16 errors and hit just .023 against UA.
“I think some of it was in fact that we were double blocking her and she’s just not accustomed to that,” Rubio said. “So we were able to kind of make her more uncomfortable because we had three people up against her and that all worked out great for us.”
As a team, Arizona had 19.5 total blocks. A big reason for that was middle blocker Zyonna Fellows. She set a career record against Cal with 14 total blocks. It was the second time this season that Fellows has set a personal best against the Golden Bears. She had 12 against them in Tucson on Oct. 16.
“That’s terrific,” Rubio said. “She was on a mission tonight. She was pretty dialed in and just did a fantastic job...It was a terrific night for her. And we should have set her more. I mean, she hit close to .500. Didn’t have any errors. Just really a fantastic match tonight.”
While they may have been able to set Fellows more, the Wildcats still got big offensive nights from both Jaelyn Hodge and Sofia Maldonado Diaz. Hodge led the team with 16 kills, getting a double-double by adding 10 digs. She also had six total blocks for 19.0 points.
Maldonado Diaz was just behind Hodge on kills with 15 and led the match in points with 22.5. She, too, had a double-double with 13 digs to go with her kills. She added 7 total blocks, 4 aces, and 3 assists.
Maldonado Diaz was just one of the players that helped Arizona have a strong night on serve. As a team, the Wildcats had 13 aces against 12 service errors. Emery Herman matched Maldonado Diaz with four aces while Ana Heath had three.
“Emery played another superlative match,” Rubio said. “It was fantastic, and really led the team in a lot of different ways in the setting.”
In addition to her four aces, Herman had four kills, 42 assists, 17 digs, and four total blocks.
Arizona was able to play strong defense and was generally strong on serve receive. While Rubio has said a few times this season that he didn’t think senior libero Kamaile Hiapo was having her best year, he had nothing but praise for her after things wrapped up in Haas Pavilion.
“Good,” he said. “Serve receive was great. Serving was terrific. Defense was good. Her voice and her leadership were fantastic on the floor. She really was dialed in tonight.”
The Wildcats pulled away early in the opening set. From 5-3 in the opening frame, Cal never got closer than three points again. The biggest run the Golden Bears could put together was two points, and they only did that three times in the entire set. Their final points closed the Arizona lead from 18-11 to 18-13.
The Golden Bears had difficulty stringing points together early in the second set, but they were able to get two-point runs going more often and had a three-point lead several times. Arizona went on a 7-0 run with Cal leading by three to take a 16-12 lead of their own.
This time, Cal didn’t go away. The Bears and Wildcats traded points until Cal eventually put together runs of 3-0 and 4-0. The final tie came at 24-24 before the host team evened the match with a 2-0 run.
Arizona went out to a 10-4 lead in the third set. At 18-13, the Wildcats appeared to be on the way to a 2-1 lead in the match. Once again, the Golden Bears wouldn’t go away.
Cal put together a 6-0 run to take a one-point lead at 19-18. Arizona tied it up but was never able to take another lead. The Bears took the 2-1 lead, on the verge of finally putting an end to their Pac-12 losing streak.
Arizona bounced back in a big way. After Cal took a 3-0 lead in the fourth set, the Wildcats won 11 of the next 12 points, including a 9-0 run with Maldonado Diaz serving eight straight points. Three of those points were aces.
Cal only won more than a single point in a row once for the rest of the set as Arizona put together a dominant set to push it to five.
The Wildcats started to pull away at 3-3 in the final set. Cal got as close as one point at 10-9 in the set but stalled there. Arizona won the final five points of the match to improve to 15-13 overall and 5-12 in Pac-12 play. With ASU’s loss at Stanford, the Wildcats and Sun Devils are tied for 9th in the league.
Rubio went into this week’s matches saying that he knew Cal would be a tough match, so he was happy that his team rose to the occasion on the road. Beyond their play, he was also happy to see his players’ demeanor.
“The team right now is playing kind of how I envisioned we would play in the beginning of the year, just in terms of our actions and our behavior and our confidence level,” he said. “So it’s been really fun to be around the last couple of weeks just because of that.”