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Arizona volleyball guts out victories over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and UTEP to open the Wildcat Classic

Arizona volleyball’s Jaelyn Hodge (11), Nicole Briggs (22), Emery Herman (4), Kamaile Hiapo (8), Zyonna Fellows (16) 
Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics

It was a day for learning as Arizona volleyball approaches Pac-12 play. Some of the lessons were good ones and some were not so good, but all’s well that ends well. The Wildcats were able to get through two challenging matches with victories on Friday.

Arizona defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in straight sets (25-22, 26-24, 25-11) that were closer than they should have been. The Wildcats then returned in the evening to win 3-1 (25-14, 19-25, 25-20, 25-23) over UTEP and improve to 9-1 on the season.

“It’s kind of the tale of two tapes,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said. “I was really unhappy this morning because of all the unforced errors. I mean, set one we missed eight serves and got aced, five receiving errors. That’s definitely not the direction we want to go. So I was really not happy.”

He lifted many of his starters in the second set against the winless TAMU-CC team. Freshman Ana Heath went in to set instead of Emery Herman while freshman Lauren Rummel came in for Jaelyn Hodge. The libero jersey was worn by Madison Ellman rather than Kamaile Hiapo.

When asked if his substitution was just about getting players some experience or if it was because he was unhappy with the play of some of his starters, Rubio answered simply “Both.”

“They kind of were able to fulfill both of those areas,” he continued. “When I want to kind of send a message and I was able to play other people.”

He has often cited the team’s depth as a strength and a way to push players to be their best. What message did it send his experienced starters?

“I think the first game was not good for us as a team,” Herman said. “We just didn’t play together.”

Some players continued to struggle in the evening match. Hodge had just five kills to go with six errors on 32 swings, causing her hitting percentage to plummet to -.031.

Zyonna Fellows struggled on offense, ending with a .100 hitting percentage. At the middle blocker position, her two errors against just three kills were an issue. She did contribute 10 total blocks, though, helping her to nine points.

Rubio also noted that Puk Stubbe did not play well early in the match, possibly due to a hip pointer she is dealing with, but she was able to get going in the fourth set to help secure the match. She ended up just short of a double-double with nine kills and 12 digs. She ended up hitting .240. She also had three total blocks, helping her score 11 points.

Rubio was still encouraged by the evening match against UTEP.

“That was a tough match for us,” he said. It was a tough match because we didn’t have everybody playing at their best. It wasn’t our A-game but..I told the team out of all the 10 matches that we played so far, that one makes me the most proud, because we played against a super aggressive team. They got enough arms to score in every position. We did not have our A-game and we still managed to play well win, and I think that’s a mark of a really good team.”

It was especially important that Maldonado Diaz, Herman, Hiapo, and Ellman rose to the occasion and picked up their teammates. Maldonado Diaz led the team with 16 kills. Herman and Hiapo each contributed 12 digs, and Herman threw in 30 assists to raise her career number to

Herman had to pick herself up physically, as well. In the fourth set, she collided with Hodge as both pursued the ball. Herman fell to the floor and stayed down for several seconds as play continued around her. She eventually got up and continued to play the point. She was kept in the locker room for evaluation for about 30 minutes after the game.

“(They were) just checking,” Herman said when she finally emerged from the locker room. “I’m all good.”

Hopefully, that will still be the case on Saturday afternoon when she and her team face Cal State Northridge to complete their pre-conference play. On Wednesday, it’s time for rivalry week as they kick off Pac-12 play by hosting Arizona State.