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Sofia Maldonado Diaz and Dilara Gedikoglu shine in heartbreaking 5-set loss to USC

Arizona volleyball celebrates after a point at USC.

So many things went right for Arizona volleyball on Sunday afternoon in the Galen Center. Enough went wrong to cost the Wildcats yet again as USC pulled out a five-set (22-25, 27-25, 19-25, 25-22, 15-11) victory on its home court.

Sofia Maldonado Diaz was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench on Friday against UCLA. She had an enormous game for Arizona with 22 kills on .444 hitting. She had just two hitting errors on 45 swings and tied her career high with six aces. She also had six digs and one total block. It was all good enough for a match-high 28.5 points.

The Wildcats also got a huge game out of Dilara Gedikoglu, who has only recently been inserted into the starting lineup. The senior outside hitter had 14 kills, which was the third-highest in the match and second-highest for Arizona. Her 11 digs gave her one of three double-doubles notched by members of the Wildcats team.

It was the first time Gedikoglu had recorded double-digit kills since transferring to UA as a sophomore after the 2018-19 school year. While she ended the match hitting .265, she hit better than .400 for over half the match.

The other double-doubles were recorded by setter Emery Herman and libero Kamaile Hiapo. Herman had 6 kills (.600 hitting), 45 assists, an ace, 12 digs, and four total blocks. Hiapo contributed 13 assists and 13 digs to complete her double-double.

Jaelyn Hodge had double-digit kills. The outside hitter had 13 kills on .122 hitting. She also had three digs and four total blocks.

The Wildcats played a strong match and showed mental fortitude that has sometimes deserted them this season. It was a match between two teams that didn’t have much between them in terms of talent and production.

Arizona had 65 kills to USC’s 61. The Wildcats also had four more hitting errors than the Women of Troy (21-17). UA had 15 service errors against nine aces while USC had 14 errors against 11 aces. Both had 59 digs.

They were almost identical in side-out percentage with UA siding out on 61.7 percent of USC’s serves while USC sided out on 61.5 percent of Arizona’s serves. That, of course, meant that they were also almost identical in the percentage of points won on their own serves (UA 38.5 and USC 38.3).

The biggest differences came in attacks (UA 159, USC 147), hitting percentage (USC .299, UA .277), assists (UA 62, USC 55), blocks (USC 10, UA 7), and blocking errors (USC 4, UA 1).

The fact that there were so few differences meant that one other thing had a major impact: calls made on official reviews. Three crucial challenges in the second and fourth sets had an enormous impact on how the match turned out. Two of the three went USC’s way, including one that would have given Arizona a win in the second set and a 2-0 lead in the match.

With the teams tied at 24-24 in the second set and Arizona leading 1-0 in the match, it looked like Maldonado Diaz hit an attack out. The point was given to USC to make it set point to level the match. However, three Wildcats (including Maldonado Diaz) immediately signaled to their bench that USC had touched the ball at the net. With such an important point being questioned by his players, Rubio showed the challenge card.

The video on the Pac-12 Network was not completely clear, but it looked like the officials had probably made the right call originally. However, after looking at the video available to the officiating crew, the down official signaled that there had, indeed, been a touch by a USC player. It was now Arizona’s set point instead of USC’s and the Wildcats were on the verge of taking the 2-0 lead.

Herman stepped to the service line and served what appeared to be an ace that caught part of the back line. It would have given Arizona the set, but the official on the court called it out.

Arizona associate head coach Rita Stubbs looked adamant that it had caught the line, and the replay by the Pac-12 Network seemed to confirm that. This time, the down official would rule against Rubio. Instead of a 26-24 set win for Arizona, she ruled that it should be tied 25-25.

Was she second-guessing her earlier ruling in the Wildcats’ favor and issuing a make-up call? Did the officials actually have different video that disproved the play-by-play announcer and Stubbs, both of whom either indicated or said that it was clearly in?

Whatever the reason, it meant the Women of Troy had new life in the set. They took advantage of it and leveled things with a 27-25 win in set two.

That could have taken the wind out of the Wildcats’ sails, but it didn’t. The team showed great resilience.

With USC leading 10-8, Arizona went on a kind of run it hasn’t put together in Pac-12 play. The Wildcats reeled off 12 straight points to take the 20-10 advantage. A service error by Maldonado Diaz put an end to that but Arizona still won the set easily to go up 2-1 in the match.

The Wildcats needed just one set to pull off the kind of win they have been so close to so many times, but in a set that didn’t go their way, a replay decision again had a major impact.

Late in the fourth set, USC served a ball that was called out on the court. It looked to be several inches out both in live action and on the television replay, but the down official reversed the call. What would have been a tied set was now 18-16 in the home team’s favor. In a set that was eventually decided by three points, it was a huge reversal.

It was a tough way to lose. All three of the replay calls were questionable. At the very least, it appeared that there was not enough evidence to reverse two of them. With two of the three calls going against Arizona and all three happening in tight sets that USC eventually won, the frustration of losing a close match wasn’t the only source of disappointment for the Wildcats.