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Arizona volleyball has same old problems in loss to Long Beach State

Arizona volleyball prepares for Long Beach State University on Sept. 14, 2023 at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

It was a case of the same old affliction for Arizona volleyball on Thursday evening. The Wildcats (3-6) struggled in serve receive on their way to a 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 25-19) loss to Long Beach State (4-4). Arizona has not won a set since defeating Grand Canyon University in five on Sept. 3.

“Thanks for that,” joked Arizona head coach Rita Stubbs when asked about the set losing streak.

Stubbs said that she’s “running out of messages” to motivate the Wildcats. The issues come down to the most basic parts of the game. They are issues that not only continue to plague Arizona this year but also affected the team last year.

“Serve and pass is how the game is played,” said Arizona head coach Rita Stubbs. “So, if you don’t serve balls and you’re not gonna get points, you’re giving them up. If you don’t pass the ball, your setter is not in position to be able to do well. So, serving and passing—like it was a secret to anyone—is something that we will constantly have to work on all season. It’s never going to be a time where we’re going to just sit back and say, ‘Oh, we’re passing great balls.”

Those passes, whether they come from the pins or the littles, make it difficult for Arizona’s inexperienced setters to put the attackers in a position to score. The talent the Wildcats have at the pins isn’t being utilized fully as a result, leading to an offense that “sucks,” in Stubbs’ opinion. It may start with the pass and move to the set, but it’s also the responsibility of the attacker at the end of the chain to make the right decisions.

“The setting position is like the point guard,” Stubs said. “So, if you pass someone the ball at their knees, they’re going to struggle. You pass it over their head, they’re going to struggle. So, you got to put the ball in a window where they can find some success. At some point you become frustrated as an attacker, and that’s part of what we’re talking about. Not leading with your emotions. You have to lead with your brain. And so there’s times where the ball may not be necessarily in the best place. Do you have the ability with your experience and your level of play to keep the ball in play without getting frustrated? And we don’t do very well with that all the time.”

For the players, that has to start with helping their teammates stay confident. If they focus on the mistakes, they won’t be able to recover and do what they need to do in the next point. They will stay mired in their own frustration.

“Just keep doing our job and encouraging others,” said Arizona senior outside hitter Jaelyn Hodge. “Giving them confidence to do their job and play their own game. And just not being scared out there.”

Fellow senior Sofia Maldonado Diaz says that the frustration is especially concerning because it’s keeping the setters and hitters from being successful teammates.

“I feel like the connection in between us has to be better,” Maldonado Diaz said. “And once the frustration is there, or pressure, we just need to support each other and letting people know that they know how to do their job.”

Hodge doesn’t want to see the connection issues within the game fester. That means not holding onto what went wrong for too long. Once it has been discussed, both coach and players feel like they need to let it go.

“Just moving on and not dwelling on that,” Hodge said. “I think that could break teams. But still being there for each other, supporting each other. Knowing there’s always tomorrow and the next game.”

Arizona found some success with working together to keep the ball in play later in the match. There were several long rallies in the second and third sets. The problem was that the Wildcats rarely terminated the play and earned the point The Beach almost always found the opening and won those rallies.

While not winning points is something all fans can see, it’s sometimes difficult for casual fans to judge the quality of serve receive. In this match, double-digit aces by the Beach made it pretty clear, especially when they had just five service errors through the first two sets. They ended up with nine.

The issue of floor defense was evident in relation to LBSU. The Beach had 51 digs compared to Arizona’s 37. Stubbs felt this aspect of the game improved for her team as the match went on. It was responsible for keeping the Wildcats in those long rallies in the final two sets, but no one on the team had double-digit digs.

LBSU blockers were also superior in slowing down Arizona’s attack. The Beach had seven total blocks compared to just four for the Wildcats.

Hodge and junior middle blocker Nicole Briggs were Arizona’s primary blockers. Hodge ended with two block assists and Briggs had three. Three other players had one each.

On the other side of the net, LBSU had four players with at least two total blocks. Kameron Bacon ate up the Wildcats with six block assists, making her responsible for three of the Beach’s seven total blocks.

Hodge once again led the team on offense. She is having a strong season, scoring double-digit kills in six of eight matches heading into the match against LBSU. In two of her last three matches, she hit .386 or better. In four of the team’s eight matches, she hit .250 or better.

Hodge didn’t have that kind of success on Thursday. The fact that her nine kills led the team was evidence of the entire group’s offensive struggle.

Sophomore Jordan Wilson was close behind with seven kills and did it on a slightly superior hitting percentage (.188 vs .143), but none of the Wildcat pins had a great night. Sofia Maldonado Diaz had six kills on .037 hitting. Junior Puk Stubbe did not play after the second set. She was hitting -.333 with no kills when Stubbs took her out for the final time.

What was the best part of the day?

“That today’s over,” Stubbs said. “That’s something Dave Rubio would say. I channeled my inner Dave.”