If the Arizona and Arizona State football game was a match between a Wildcat team that has outperformed expectations and a Sun Devil one that has sputtered, ASU versus Arizona volleyball was even moreso but in the opposite direction. The Wildcats came into the season hoping to get to the tournament for the first time since 2018 and looking to have a decent shot at it. ASU hasn’t been to the tournament since 2015 and no one knew what to expect of the Sun Devils, but that came to an end this year as they closed the regular season with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-20) victory over Arizona to end 26-6 and 14-6 in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats honored seniors Sofia Maldonado Diaz, Jaelyn Hodge, and Joy Galles before the game in a ceremony that included retired Arizona head coach Dave Rubio. Maldonado Diaz has spoken of her appreciation for what Rubio did for her in giving her the opportunity to play in the Pac-12. Hodge shared that appreciation for both Rubio and current head coach Rita Stubbs.
“It was really special,” Hodge said. “I don’t think until that moment when I was hugging both of them—that’s when I started getting emotional and tearing up because...they were both such a big part of my growth here.”
Maldonado Diaz led Arizona in what could be her last game in McKale Center. She has the opportunity to come back for one more year but will not make up her mind until next semester. She ended the match with 13 kills on .259 hitting. She added nine digs and one block.
Fellow senior Hodge was not far behind with nine kills on .185 hitting. She added six digs. Hodge could also come back for another season, but like Maldonado Diaz, she hasn’t made her decision yet.
“Whenever someone asks, I say I don’t really know,” Hodge said. “I don’t know. Taking a fifth year, staying, transferring, pro—I don’t know. There are so many options. I still have to decide this winter break, but I’m just so thankful for my time in Arizona. All the support from the staff, players, academic side, everything. I’m so grateful for it all. The amount of support from the fans that continue to come to our games and cheer for us, no matter what.”
Despite a losing season and the match starting roughly at the same time the UA-ASU football game ended in Tempe, there were still 2,701 fans in attendance to watch the Wildcats’ final outing of the season.
The future of the program was represented by sophomore Jordan Wilson and junior Alayna Johnson. The pair tied with a team-high four blocks each. Johnson also had a team-high hitting percentage of .600 while scoring six kills without a hitting error. Two of Johnson’s blocks were solo. Wilson added eight kills but had a difficult time scoring and ended with a .074 hitting percentage.
Johnson’s play left Stubbs wanting more. Before the match, she asked each player to tell a teammate what she wanted from that teammate in this match. Maldonado Diaz had Johnson.
“I don’t know what she told her, but it’s kind of like play for me,” Stubbs said. “So, that’s where it becomes a little frustrating because it’s like, you could have done that all along. It’s like our record doesn’t really display how good of a team we have the ability to be.”
Stubbs is thinking about that future now. She said that she would be getting up to work out early because it’s how she has handled the stress this season. The team will join together on Sunday to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show even though they will not be going.
After that, it’s time to watch film and make decisions.
“Go out and find the pieces that we need to make us better,” Stubbs said. “And I start meetings on Monday, so some things will happen.”
In addition to finding the on-court pieces the team needs, Stubbs will be looking for one assistant coach. Assistant coach Deitre Collins-Parker is leaving the program after one year on the staff. Stubbs is looking for someone to help in the area of recruiting and everyday management of the team.
“I‘m looking for a very unique individual to be able to come in and bond and deal with the team and to be able to look at recruiting,” Stubbs said. “Because I feel like Ryan (Windisch), Steven (Duhoux), and I, we can navigate the training and things like that, but still put someone in a position where they can develop and do that because no one wants to come in and just do one thing.”
It won’t be long until the team is back training, though. Top recruit Carlie Cisneros will arrive on Jan. 5, 2024. On Tuesday, Jan. 16, spring workouts will start in hopes of improving before the 8-23 Wildcats start play in the Big 12.