It was just what the doctor ordered for Jaelyn Hodge. The outside hitter struggled in Arizona’s match against Alabama State last Saturday, surrendering her starting position to Dilara Gedikoglu in the second set. Against Wake Forest, she rose to the occasion when the Wildcats needed her most.
Arizona played with only two short appearances from total kills leader Sofia Maldonado Diaz on Friday afternoon. Maldonado Diaz suffered a minor ankle injury in practice on Thursday and head coach Dave Rubio did not want to play her much. She entered the match twice in the fourth set to serve but was immediately subbed out each time.
In her teammate’s absence, Hodge was able to pace the Wildcats in a four-set victory (25-20, 25-22, 17-25, 25-22) over the Demon Deacons, lifting Arizona to a 4-0 record.
Hodge ended the day with 19 kills on .300 hitting. She added two service aces and a block assist to contribute a match-high 21.5 points. She also had four digs.
“Jaelyn played well,” Rubio said. “Especially in the last set, she served us out to win the match.”
What was the difference for Hodge? Her coach wasn’t entirely sure, but he believes that she is being pushed by the emergence of other players. He was especially happy with the play of Gedikoglu, who stepped into the starting lineup for Maldonado Diaz. He was also pleased with the play of freshman Lauren Rumel.
“Our depth is our strength,” Rubio said.
Setter Emery Herman had a double-double with 31 assists and a team-high 21 digs. Herman also had four kills, an ace, and a solo block for 6 points.
Middle blocker Zyonna Fellows continued her strong super senior season with seven kills and seven total blocks (three solo) for 12 points. She added two digs to her stat line.
Despite Fellows’ numbers, Rubio didn’t think there was enough production from the middle, especially when Wake Forest was making its move.
“We got very little from the middle,” he said. “Some of that, Emery has to take responsibility and set the middle more.”
Arizona aims to set the middle at least 30 percent of the time.
The Wildcats came out looking like they were going to make short work of the Demon Deacons. They led by as many as 10 points in the first set before Wake Forest went on a run at the end to make the score more respectable.
The second set was closer, although Arizona still looked to be in control. Wake Forest struck back in the third, keeping its nose in front for almost the entire set. It was the first set the Wildcats had lost this season.
The Demon Deacons appeared to be ready to push the match to a fifth set in the fourth. The Wildcats repeatedly closed the Wake Forest lead to two but could not seem to get closer than that.
Arizona finally made a run with Wake Forest leading 20-17 in the fourth. The Wildcats scored eight of the final 10 points to take the match.
“It was very close to slipping away,” Rubio said. “We won pretty handily game one and I think psychologically, (the Demon Deacons) don’t back down and we start to kind of relax and get a little loose, and all of a sudden the whole dynamic of the match changed.”
That dynamic shift was in almost every aspect of the game.
“When they started to become more aggressive and more assertive, we were just kind of reacting to that,” Rubio said. “We just couldn’t switch gears. The passing wasn’t as sharp as it normally was. The hitting, we started making too many hitting errors. The serving, we backed up on the serving. All of a sudden we’re serving too easy and they’re in system all the time and get their middles involved.”
Arizona needs to bounce back quickly and hope Maldonado Diaz is ready to go. Rubio said that he hopes to have her when the Wildcats face North Carolina in their first true road match on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 3 p.m. MST.