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Arizona volleyball drops first match of season in 5-set loss at North Carolina

Arizona’s Sofia Maldonado Diaz
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio has been preaching the need to limit errors, especially on serve, this season. Had the Wildcats been able to follow that game plan, they would likely still be undefeated. As it was, 13 service errors were a big reason they dropped their first match of the season and moved to 4-1 on the year.

It was a tight match, but Arizona lost its first true road game of the season in a five-setter (25-20, 20-25, 25-23, 17-25, 15-12) at North Carolina. The Wildcats had just five aces to go against the 13 errors while the Tar Heels had 14 aces to 10 service errors.

There were positives to take from the match. Although Sofia Maldonado Diaz did not start, she subbed in relatively early in the first set. She was used as a serve specialist late in Friday’s win over Wake Forest after suffering a minor ankle injury in practice on Thursday.

Along with the other regular starters at the pins, Maldonado Diaz was effective on offense. Getting Jaelyn Hodge, Puk Stubbe, and Maldonado Diaz to be effective all at the same time is something that has often eluded Arizona. On Saturday, all three had double-digit kills by the fourth set. Well into the fourth set, they were all still hitting over .300 for the match, although Hodge eventually dropped below that.

Maldonado Diaz led the team with 16 kills on .357 hitting. Her kill percentage was .571. She added two service aces and two total blocks for 20 points to pace Arizona. She also had two digs.

Stubbe was just behind her with 14 kills on .312 hitting and a .438 kill percentage. She had one ace and one total block for 15.5 points. Stubbe also had seven digs, but those were offset by four receiving errors.

Hodge had 13 kills and just two errors, but the sheer number of attempts (44) it took to get there knocked her hitting percentage to .250. She had a .295 kill percentage. It was the second straight strong night on offense for Hodge who had to carry the team while Maldonado Diaz was out on Friday.

Middle blocker Zyonna Fellows and setter Emery Herman were just shy of double-digit kills. Fellows had eight on a .667 hitting percentage without committing a hitting error. She added three total blocks for 9.5 points.

Herman just missed a triple-double with seven kills, 40 assists, and 10 digs. She also had five blocks, including a solo block, for 10 points. She ran into difficulty on her serve, though, committing four of Arizona’s 13 errors on serve.

The Wildcats made a habit of starting slowly in each of the first three sets. They spotted the Tar Heels a lead of four points in the first and second sets and allowed them a 4-1 lead in the third. In each of those sets, Arizona was able to come back and make a competition of it, but it especially hurt them in the first set when they ended up losing by five points.

With their backs against the wall, Arizona came out quickly in the fourth set and led for almost the entire set. The two teams tied just once and North Carolina never led.

The deciding set was a back-and-forth affair. The two teams tied eight times and swapped the lead twice. The problem for the Wildcats is that their last lead came at 4-3. From that point on, they could never push in front. The final tie came at 9-9. From there, UNC won six of the final nine points of the match.

The Wildcats will be on the road again next week when they face Sacramento State, San Diego State, and Maryland at the Aztec Invitational in San Diego. Cleaning up the service and reception errors will be key as they continue to prepare for the Pac-12 season.