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Sofia Maldonado Diaz considering her future with Arizona volleyball

Photo by Catherine Regan / Arizona Athletics

It’s been a frustrating year for Arizona volleyball (6-15, 1-9) as a group. The Wildcats got their first conference win during their last homestand when UCLA visited. Since then, they have dropped five matches, three of them in five sets. Soon, questions will turn to which of the talented seniors will return for their fifth season. Outside hitter/opposite Sofia Maldonado Diaz is currently what head coach Rita Stubbs calls her “No. 1 recruit.”

“I kind of want to wait to see how we finish how I feel for my future and the goals that I have, that is to play pro,” Maldonado Diaz said. “I also want to see what is already kind of done in terms of any options of teams or something and how I’m in general feeling to make a decision, but I also want to talk with my parents and my family.”

Maldonado Diaz said that the only reason she is in college is for volleyball, so it will be the only thing that plays into her decision about returning. She has dreams of playing in top European leagues in Italy or Turkey, but she’s also open to playing in one of the U.S. leagues.

The team recently went to watch Athletes Unlimited, which is holding its volleyball season in Phoenix this year. Former Arizona head coach Dave Rubio is working with that league this season.

“I think you guys have a lot of money to do cool things in volleyball,” Maldonado Diaz said. “I think it’s gonna grow up so much because it’s already been like maybe two years with the small league that they have, the Athletes Unlimited, but they’re doing a new one starting next year. So, I think, because how you are big in sports. I think volleyball is gonna go up a lot more and fast.”

There are currently two newer leagues getting things in line. One is the Pro Volleyball Federations, where former Arizona star Kendra Dahlke will be playing in the spring. The other is League One Volleyball (LOVB), which is a more ambitious project that aims to create something similar to the international club system in the U.S. using the existing travel club system. LOVB wants to create feeder systems from the club level to the pro level for players in the U.S. Those two will join Athletes Unlimited as professional options for players in the U.S.

Getting Maldonado Diaz back to college is Stubbs’ goal, though. To do that, she has had to think about scholarship limits. Division I volleyball has three fewer scholarships than women’s basketball despite having a larger number of American girls playing the sport and two more players in a starting lineup. That puts pressure on coaches when it comes to allocating their scholarships, especially over the past few seasons with the extra season granted to players due to the pandemic. But you can’t put it off too long.

“In the world of athletics now, your number one job is to recruit your players and then recruit the players that’s out there type things,” Stubbs said. “So you never stop recruiting or re-recruiting.”

Getting Maldonado Diaz back would mean bringing back someone who has led the team in kills per set in two of her three seasons and is currently leading the Wildcats again. Her 3.52 kills per set are the second-highest in her career, lagging behind only her freshman season. That ranks her ninth in the Pac-12 this season. She has been one of Arizona’s top servers and blockers during her time in Tucson. She’s narrowly behind setter Ana Heath in digs per set this season with 2.46 to Heath’s team-leading 2.48.

The question is whether Maldonado Diaz wants to roll the dice on returning to a program that still has major questions. Those questions have primarily been about passing and setting this year. The passing should improve with the addition of top recruit Carlie Cisneros, but Arizona still needs to find a long-term option at the libero position to really fortify that. Heath’s development at the setter position is also crucial.

Despite storming into the league with 3.63 k/s and winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year for the 2020 season, Maldonado Diaz has yet to play in the NCAA Tournament. This year will again end without reaching that team goal.

No. 3 Stanford Cardinal (17-2, 10-0) @ Arizona Wildcats (6-15, 1-9)

When: Friday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. MST

Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Streaming: Arizona Live Stream

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

Rankings: Stanford is No. 3 in the AVCA Top 25 and No. 2 in the RPI. Arizona is No. 116 in RPI.

California Golden Bears (14-7, 3-7) @ Arizona Wildcats (6-15, 1-9)

When: Sunday, Oct. 29 at 12 p.m. MST

Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Streaming: Arizona Live Stream

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

Rankings: Cal is No. 47 in RPI. Arizona is No. 116.

How to follow along

Follow us on X (Twitter) @AZDesertSwarm for all things Arizona Wildcats. For live posts of volleyball matches and news throughout the week, follow our deputy editor @KimDoss71.