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Arizona volleyball looks to build on success of strong match against North Carolina

Serve and serve receive still need to be addressed

Arizona volleyball players join hands before a match against Long Island University on Aug. 26, 2022.
Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics

If you didn’t know that Arizona volleyball lost at North Carolina last Saturday, the demeanor of head coach Dave Rubio wouldn’t give it away. On Wednesday morning, Rubio was effusive in his praise of how his team played against the Tar Heels on its first road trip of the season.

“It was the first match since this group has been together that all three pins played well,” Rubio said. “We were terrific. Our defense was great. We really played winning volleyball.”

The fact that two of the four primary pin hitters had to deal with adversity and still rose to the occasion was especially impressive for their coach. Sofia Maldonado Diaz, who came into the weekend as the team’s total kills leader, injured her ankle slightly on Thursday and played extremely sparingly on Friday against Wake Forest. She didn’t start on Saturday, but she entered the match relatively early in the first set and played with great intensity.

In the absence of Maldonado Diaz, Jaelyn Hodge carried the offensive load on Friday. She did so despite missing two days of practice the week before the matches. The junior outside hitter was just emerging from concussion protocol and was only cleared to play three rotations against Wake Forest.

“Jaelyn had an outstanding weekend,” Rubio said. “The best weekend she’s had since she’s been in the program. Her error percentage and kill percentage and managing her game, it was terrific—and against really good competition.”

The coach also had high praise for Dilara Gedikoglu, who stepped into the starting lineup against Wake Forest.

“Our depth makes a difference in a situation like that,” Rubio said. “And this coming weekend depth is going to make a big difference for us.”

That doesn’t mean that Arizona’s play last weekend was without flaws. The end result demonstrates that clearly.

Serve and serve receive ended up costing the Wildcats the victory in a five-set match where Arizona actually outscored North Carolina 105-102 over five sets. On serve receive, the Wildcats were aced by the Tar Heels 14 times.

The success of UNC’s serve changed the focus of Arizona’s practices as they prepared for the upcoming Aztec Classic where the Wildcats will face Sacramento State, San Diego State, and Maryland.

“We were obviously very surprised (at the number of aces), and that was the difference,” Rubio said. “We really, in almost all facets of the game, were in control of that match and clearly the better team with the exception of the serving and serve receive. Frustrating. Game three, we had five aces against us and two missed serves, and we lose 23-25. So out of all the skills we’re working on, the skill that we worked on the least is passing. And so now we’re obviously focused on that after the weekend we had last weekend. We’re pretty focused on that and will be for a while now.”

The Wildcats will face different challenges this weekend. It’s not just about SDSU, Sacramento State, and Maryland, either. With California in the middle of extreme weather conditions, the Wildcats may be facing conditions that are uncomfortably hot even for Tucsonans.

“I think the X factor is the fact that the gym is not air-conditioned,” Rubio said. “I don’t know how much of a factor, but we’re certainly not used to playing in a gym that’s not air-conditioned, especially since there’s a heatwave going on over in California and San Diego right now. So it’s going to be back to a lot of our high school days where we’re training and practicing in gyms that were 98 degrees. How much that plays a factor, I don’t know, but I think it’ll be different than what we normally face.”

The team will be taking a bus to San Diego. While it takes longer to get there, Rubio sees advantages in a literal road trip. It also pleases the players who requested to bus instead of flying.

“Good opportunity for us to take everybody, so that’s nice,” he said. “And then an opportunity for us to spend some time on the bus together.”

The big question is whether they can take their serving and passing along for the ride, too.

Arizona Wildcats (4-1, 0-0 Pac-12) vs Sacramento State Hornets (2-4, 0-0 Big Sky)

When and where: The match will be held on Aztec Court at Peterson Gym on Friday, Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. MST.

TV/streaming: The match will not be broadcast.

Stats: In-game stats will be available on SDSU Live Stats.

History: The Wildcats and the Hornets have met six times. Arizona has taken five of the meetings with Sacramento State’s lone win coming on Sept. 4, 1999. They last played each other Sept. 21, 2019. Arizona won 3-1. The two previous matches were at Sacramento State in 2018 and on a neutral court in 2016, The Wildcats won those matches 3-1 and 3-0, respectively.

Arizona Wildcats (4-1, 0-0 Pac-12) @ San Diego State Aztecs (2-4, 0-0 MWC)

When and where: The match will be held on Aztec Court at Peterson Gym on Friday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. MST.

TV/Streaming: The match will be streamed on the Mountain West Network.

Stats: In-game stats will be available on SDSU Live Stats.

History: These two programs have a long history stretching back to 1978. They have faced each other 35 times with San Diego leading the series 23-11-1. The Aztecs once won 22 straight matches beginning on Sept. 23, 1978. The end of that streak was also the end of their success against the Wildcats. UA has only lost to SDSU once since Nov. 1984. The two teams tied 1-1 on Sept. 22, 1978.

Arizona Wildcats (4-1, 0-0 Pac-12) vs Maryland Terrapins (4-2, 0-0 Big Ten)

When and where: The match will be held on Aztec Court at Peterson Gym on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 12 p.m. MST.

TV/Streaming: The match will not be broadcast.

Stats: In-game stats will be available on SDSU Live Stats.

History: This will be the first meeting between the ‘Cats and the Terps.