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Shorthanded Arizona volleyball loses to Colorado in straight sets

Middle blocker Nicole Briggs (22) had a huge game for a shorthanded Arizona volleyball team at CU Events Center on Oct. 20, 2023.
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Jaelyn Hodge has been nursing a foot injury since March. During this fall’s volleyball season, she often wears a boot when not playing and sometimes doesn’t jump in practice. With the Wildcats essentially out of the running for the postseason, head coach Rita Stubbs and her staff decided to shut Hodge down for front-row play for now.

“It’s not worth it,” Stubbs said.

Hodge did not play at all in the first two sets of a 3-0 loss (25-21, 25-16, 25-16) at Colorado on Friday night. In the final set, she came in to serve and play the back row, but she rotated out when it was time to go into the front row.

“We’re trying to keep her from jumping,” Stubbs said.

With one of their senior stars out, the Wildcats’ other two primary starting pins struggled. Sofia Maldonado Diaz eventually brought her hitting percentage up into positive territory, but both she and Jordan Wilson hit in the negative for the bulk of the first two sets. Wilson ended with a -.143 hitting percentage while Maldonado Diaz hit .103.

Maldonado Diaz led the team with 10 kills. She had her fifth straight double-double with 11 digs. The senior also chipped in two aces and one total block for 12.5 points.

Headed into this weekend’s games, Stubbs said that both Colorado and Utah were very good at serving. They were able to pick their target and take her out of the game. That’s what they did to Maldonado Diaz.

With her pins struggling, Stubbs had to find offense somewhere. For much of the match, the Wildcats were led by middle blocker Nicole Briggs. While Briggs has typically been a bigger threat to block than on the offensive side of play, her offense has taken a step forward of late.

“It’s been huge,” Stubbs said.

Briggs had a career-high seven kills on .500 hitting. That comes on the back of a six-kill match against Oregon State last Sunday. Briggs has had at least five kills and hit at least .500 in four of the last five games.

The absence of Hodge also opened an opportunity for Sydnie Vanek to get on the court. The freshman outside hitter had some bright spots, ending the night with four kills and two total blocks, although Stubbs said there’s still plenty for the first-year player to learn.

From here, the Wildcats travel to Utah to take on a Utes team that is struggling. With Hodge “day to day” and expected to be out again, it will be all hands on deck for those who are healthy enough to play.

“We still expect to compete and try to win,” Stubbs said.