Before Arizona volleyball took the court against UCLA, Wildcats head coach Rita Stubb held her usual chalk talk gathering with season ticket holders. She echoed something she has said several times over the past few weeks. She wanted to see the team compete from beginning to end. They didn’t quite accomplish that, but the Wildcats secured their first Pac-12 win of the season with a four-set victory (25-15, 25-20, 14-25, 25-23) over the Bruins.
“Part of competing is making changes, seeing what’s going on there,” Stubbs said. “Not getting beat on the same ball. Unfortunately, we missed several serves back-to-back. I think the third set is when we missed the most serves. So, to me that’s not competing, because that was one of the things that we talked about.”
Something they have talked about that the team was able to implement was the dump by the setter. It’s an aspect of the offense that has been glaringly missing, but sophomore Ana Heath called her own number against the Bruins. She ended the night with three kills on .500 hitting. After one such score, Stubbs raised her arms in celebration of her young setter.
Another thing the team was successful at was targeting UCLA outside hitter Cheridyn Leverette when serving, forcing her to work hard for everything she got. The Wildcats forced her to take the first ball 31 times, once more than Arizona libero Joy Galles.
While Leverette had a team-high 14 kills, she hit just .152 and had a match-high 10 hitting errors. She added two receiving errors to that. After throwing in her one service error, she contributed 13 points to the Wildcats’ total while accounting for 14.5 for her own team.
Arizona set the tone with its serving and blocking. The Wildcats ended the match with eight aces against 10 errors, not too far off the one-to-one ratio that teams usually target. Six of their aces came in the first two sets.
Untouchable — Arizona Volleyball (@ArizonaVBall) October 7, 2023
Back-to-back aces for Joy! pic.twitter.com/XMk3mecjLo
It was an especially strong night at the service line for Jaelyn Hodge. The senior has had her struggles serving this season. She came into the match with just three aces against 23 service errors. Against the Bruins, she had only two errors and three aces. The aces tied UCLA’s Ashley Mullen for the match high.
“I thought we handled it well the first two sets and last set, but third set we let our guard down,” Hodge said about the team’s serving. “That’s when they capitalized on us.”
Hodge led the team with 16 kills on .268 hitting. She contributed a match-high 20.5 points, but that wasn’t the only thing her coach noticed.
“I was pleased with her,” Stubbs said. “I thought that she was being more than she’s been in the past in terms of trying to be that leader. But like I said earlier, it’s just not something that’s easy for her, so you have to put her in a situation, in an environment where she can do it and know it’s okay if she messes up.”
Hodge was also responsible for three total blocks. As a team, Arizona had 10 total blocks. The Wildcats were led by middle blocker Nicole Briggs with five. Her fellow MB Alayna Johnson had four, including one solo.
It might have been Briggs’ strongest match of the season. In addition to her five blocks, she led the team with a .571 hitting percentage and had two digs. She added five kills on seven swings and gave her team 7.5 points. While she had six kills two weeks ago against Washington State, she hit just .154 that match and had three total blocks.
Although Hodge was the only one of the three pins who was consistently “on” all match, all three contributed at different times. Jordan Wilson had four kills on .571 hitting in the first set. She ended the night with 13 kills and two total blocks, but she hit just .182.
Sofia Maldonado Diaz took a while to get going, but she was crucial after Arizona dropped the third set to give UCLA new life. Seven of her 11 kills came in the fourth set. Her final two kills gave the Wildcats match point and the win. She did not commit a hitting error in the final set, bringing her hitting percentage up to .219 for the match. She also contributed 13 digs to secure the double-double.
She never goes out of style— Arizona Volleyball (@ArizonaVBall) October 7, 2023
Sofia picks up her sixth kill! pic.twitter.com/eFuoOR5uWk
How were the Wildcats able to come back this time when they collapsed in similar situations earlier in the season?
“I think having everyone on the court and coming off the bench doing their job and not looking for someone else to do it,” Hodge said. “Just doing your own job, staying focused, and just getting this one. Because I know that could push teams back, losing games that you know you shouldn’t lose—in that way, at least. I think we did a good job.”
Arizona has an even bigger challenge in two days. The Wildcats (6-10, 1-4) now have their first Pac-12 win, but they faced a UCLA team that is 9-6 overall and 1-4 in the conference. On Sunday at 12 p.m. MST, they will face USC (10-5, 4-1), which is coming off a loss to Arizona State (16-1, 4-1).
“USC is going to be hungry,” Stubbs said. “They don’t want to go on the road and go 0-2, so we’ll have our work cut out for us.”