It could go two ways. Was it a hindrance to be going on the road to play an early match just three days after the previous match—especially against a team Arizona hadn’t seen yet this season? Wildcat head coach Rita Stubbs didn’t necessarily think so, saying it was refreshing to face someone they hadn’t seen except on film this year.
It turned out that Stubbs was right, at least early in the match. The Wildcats left Tucson around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, about 48 hours after their last match ended. They practiced late upon arrival in Seattle, then were back on the court for the start of the match at 4 p.m. MST on Wednesday.
Perhaps that lack of time to think helped them, but it couldn’t cement the win. Washington took the 3-1 (21-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-22) victory despite a hot start from the Wildcats.
The Wildcats and Huskies have both had seasons that didn’t live up to expectations or standards in the first year of having an alumna at the helm of the program. UW is used to being near the top of the Pac-12 and a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament. At 15-14 overall and 6-12 in the conference going into the match, that isn’t the case this year. UA’s difficulties are well-chronicled with an 8-21 overall record and a 3-15 league record.
“It takes time to get acclimated and implement your system because she didn’t have a full roster in the spring,” Stubbs said about UW head coach Leslie Gabriel. “So it wasn’t like there was a lot of training time with those kids.”
The teams’ numbers weren’t dramatically different coming in. Both averaged around 12 kills per set while allowing opponents to score considerably higher numbers (UA 12.7, UW 12.9). Both committed just under two hitting errors per set. Both were at exactly 1.8 blocks per set while giving up 2.0 per set.
Why the stats were similar was demonstrated during the match. As Arizona has shown in several matches this year, UW can suffer lapses in communication and organization. Timing between setter and hitters hurt the Huskies on several occasions. They are also prone to throwing in
Arizona’s demons were more damaging, though. One thing that has hurt the Wildcats all year has been their play at the ends of sets. That was the case again in Seattle.
The Wildcats took the lead at 4-3 in the opening set and never trailed again. They let down at the end, though. The Huskies were in a 21-14 hole but won seven of the final 11 points to make it a closer set. That gave them momentum going into the second set.
UW used that momentum to good effect. This time, Arizona won the first point but it was the Wildcats’ only lead of the set. The Huskies led by six several times during the set, then pushed that lead to five for the final margin.
The third set was close until 14-14. Then, Arizona’s late-set issues popped up again. UW went on a five-point run to take control of the set. After the final tie, the Huskies outscored the Wildcats 9-4.
Even more painful were the late-set issues in the fourth set. The Wildcats built a 19-14 lead and looked to be on the brink of pushing it to five sets. They scored just three more points in the 11-3 Washington run that ended the match.
The Wildcats were led by Jaelyn Hodge and her double-double. She had 14 kills on .297 hitting and 10 digs. She added one ace and one block for 15.5 points.
Sofia Maldonado Diaz also had double-digit kills. She ended with 11 kills on .211 hitting. Her ace and two blocks gave her 13 points. She also added an assist and five digs.
Freshman Journey Tucker made her first trip with the team in several weeks. She has missed time due to medical issues, but she returned to the court last Sunday. On Wednesday, she led the team in blocks with three total blocks.
Setter Ana Heath had three kills on .600 hitting to lead the team in hitting percentage. She added two aces and two total blocks (one solo) for 6.5 points. She also had 31 assists and nine digs.
Arizona was set to return home immediately after the match so the players and coaches could be with their families for Thanksgiving.
“It’s really important,” Stubbs said. “Family definitely is a part of our dynamic.”
She added that the team would gather for a group Thanksgiving on Sunday to watch the NCAA selection show because she wanted them to see what it means to the teams who will be going.
The Wildcats will have senior day on Saturday, Nov. 25 when they face ASU at 5 p.m. MST.