Saturday will be the last day Arizona volleyball steps on the court as a member of the Pac-12 conference. It will also be the last day that at least one Wildcat puts on an Arizona uniform to compete. Arizona will honor seniors Jaelyn Hodge, Sofia Maldonado Diaz, and Joy Galles at the match against No. 18 Arizona State. While the Sun Devils are headed to the NCAA Tournament, it will be the last match of the year for Arizona.
“It’s really fun every time we play against them,” Maldonado Diaz said. “So it’s not really because of senior night, but just playing against them. I really enjoy it. I’m pretty excited.”
Arizona head coach Rita Stubbs has already made it clear that both Maldonado Diaz and Hodge would be welcomed back to play the fifth year that they were granted due to the pandemic, although she has to be conscious of the number of scholarships she has available. Hodge hasn’t spoken to the media about her plans, but from the outside looking in, her ties to both the state of Arizona and the university seem to make her the most likely to stay. The question is whether the foot pain that has plagued her for the better part of the year is something she wants to continue to deal with.
Maldonado Diaz is considering her future. She wants to go pro eventually. At this point, she probably still needs to improve her defense to play at the level she would like to, but there are a lot of professional leagues both inside and outside the U.S. these days.
“I’m gonna finish school here next semester,” Maldonado Diaz said. “So next semester, I’m coming back for school. After that, I just want to talk about it with my family, as I said before, see what are the options and then decide during next semester.”
Maldonado Diaz has said that she has dreams of playing in Italy or Turkey, but she is also interested in one of the three leagues that will be operating in the U.S. Athletes Unlimited, where former Arizona head coach Dave Rubio coached this year, has been operating for a few years. Knowing that Rubio was in the league was something Maldonado Diaz mentioned as a reason to consider AU several weeks ago. Pro Volleyball Federation and League One Volleyball (LOVB) will be up and running soon with PVF set to start in the spring of 2024.
Galles will also return next semester to finish school. After that, things are up in the air.
“I am looking to take my fifth year and where that is, I don’t know yet,” Galles said. “But I’m just kind of waiting, and I know that it’ll feel right when I do decide.”
Galles has taken on a new role this season, sharing the libero position with freshman Giorgia Mandotti after the departure of Kamaile Hiapo last year.
Before the trio makes their decisions, there’s a big match against ASU. Last year, Arizona ended the season with a reverse sweep of the Sun Devils in Tempe. They have all mentioned that as a great memory.
“I can really, really remember every detail against ASU the last game last year,” Maldonado Diaz said. “I remember every point. It was so good. It was so close. So I think most of my memories are in the court.”
The memories go back to their first day together. Maldonado Diaz came to Arizona with a limited ability to speak English. Although she understood it, she had a difficult time expressing herself in a second language. During her freshman season, student manager Izzy Barnard translated for her. That’s not because Galles didn’t try, though.
“[Rubio] asked the team, he was like, does anyone speak Spanish?” Galles said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ I really didn’t, but I was a freshman and just no one was raising their hand. I was like, I can do it because I speak Portuguese. So I was like, I can figure it out, and I knew Spanish, I really thought. I didn’t know Spanish, honestly, in the moment. And so I go there I’m like doing my thing. I’m talking to Sofia. We’re getting to know her. I thought I was. And then I get back and Rita was like, ‘You know, Sofia told me that she didn’t understand a thing you said the whole time.’”
Maldonado Diaz laughed about the memories but is very grateful for what the coaches, players, and support staff did for her when she arrived. Barnard, whose father Mark is the former head coach at Oregon State, was helpful in that she understood both volleyball and Spanish.
“Izzy, she was amazing,” Maldonado Diaz said. “She knew how to explain me everything so she didn’t need to explain it twice. And also she was listening to every detail. She was asking all the questions before telling me what to do. So, any question that I had she already asked before, so she already knew what to say. It was pretty hard. Really, really hard. I couldn’t talk with any of them, really. And I was just imitating what Jaelyn or the pins were doing, because I didn’t know what the drills were. Even if they said the instructions I was like, just do it and I will see and do it again. And I think in this case Dave was really patient with me. Even anytime he wanted to say feedback or things like that, he will wait until the end of practice till Izzy can then tell me. So, I think not just as a player was hard, I think as a coaching staff and teammates, it was hard, too. I’m really grateful for how patient they were and how much they helped me on that.”
Regardless of how it ends, the trio has been through a lot together. They came in as the No. 7 ranked class in the country. From the very beginning, things didn’t go as planned.
The pandemic happened, greatly affecting their freshman season. None of them even got to have a spring practice season until they were headed into their junior year. While other Pac-12 schools had super seniors who had been through training with their programs and had four years of experience, Arizona’s core was largely underclassmen who spent several years without that. It set them back from the beginning.
Lauren Ware, who was a member of their class, never suited up for regular competition with the program, choosing to stick to basketball. China Rai Crouch got pregnant and eventually moved to Las Vegas with her mom and stopped playing college volleyball. Emery Herman transferred to Colorado State after last season. She’s currently playing in the Mountain West conference tournament as the No. 2 seed, hoping to get to the NCAA Tournament with a record that stands at 19-11 going into the next round. Jaleesa Caroccio is playing at Houston Christian this season. Her season ended Nov. 18 in the first round of the Southland Conference tournament.
“I took a very different role than I had previous years, so it felt like it almost all went by super, super quickly,” Galles said. “Just because it was an adjustment for me already in the first place. But I also made a conscious decision before this season to really reflect on every travel trip and just enjoy every moment because I love this group of girls. And so, I’ve written things down throughout the season that I want to remember and I’m really thrilled for senior night. I’m excited to have my family in town. And we came here, I think, with eight other recruits, and it’s just the three of us now and we’ve built a special bond, too. So, I’m just excited to finish it off strongly with my team.”
No. 18 Arizona State (25-6, 13-6) @ Arizona (8-22, 3-16)
When: Saturday, Nov. 25 at 5 p.m. MST
Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
TV: Pac-12 Arizona
Stats: Arizona Live Stats
Rankings: ASU is ranked No. 18 in both the AVCA poll and the RPI. Arizona is No. 148 in RPI.