All three of Arizona’s starting pin hitters had double-digit kills in a 3-0 (25-12, 25-13, 25-17) victory over Long Island at the GCU Invitational on Saturday afternoon. Jordan Wilson, Jaelyn Hodge, and Sofia Maldonado Diaz all stood out in the Wildcats’ rout of the Sharks. It was a day to get things right, both mentally and physically.
“[It was] about getting confidence and being able to get us kind of a groove and work in a non-threatening, if you will—not to downplay LIU at all—but to be in a non-threatening environment, that sometimes you just need to be able to reset a little bit and get your mojo back,” Arizona head coach Rita Stubbs said.
Stubbs went with a few changes to the lineup. After a few matches of starting Puk Stubbe, she inserted Wilson back into the starting seven. She also started freshman Giorgia Mandotti at libero for the first time this season. The changes paid off.
Wilson led the team with 13 kills on .370 hitting. She added a block for a team-high 13.5 points and had two digs. It was the best match for the sophomore since transferring to Arizona.
Hodge was the most efficient Wildcat pin with 10 kills on .444 hitting. She also had a block for 10.5 points. On defense, she contributed two digs.
Maldonado Diaz contributed a double-double with 10 kills and 10 digs. She added two blocks and two aces for 13 points and threw in an assist for good measure.
Stubbs was pleased with both the production and the mindset of the trio.
“They’re in a good place,” Stubbs said. “For them, it is all about being able to put me in a position to score. So, when they’re not in a position score, it is still making the best attack line versus being frustrated and making your attack line based on frustration. So, there’s a lot of ownership that goes with them as well as the set. It is not always just a set or a small.”
Arizona also got production from both middle blockers. Alayna Johnson had eight kills on .538 hitting. At the net, she had three total blocks (one solo) to give her 10 points. Nicole Briggs added three kills on .600 hitting and four blocks (one solo) for 5.5 points.
It all started with the passing. Mandotti stepped in and proved that she could be an all-around libero. She earned her chance to stay on the floor by being able to serve as much as for her passing.
“Coming in, one of the things that we didn’t know about Giorgia, being an international libero, is whether she could serve or not because they don’t serve internationally at that position,” Stubbs said. “But she came in and she did a good job of keeping pressure on them as a server. So that part was really nice. And she ended up getting two aces, so that was nice to see.”
In the first set, Mandotti stepped to the service line with her team ahead 19-12. She served an ace followed by five more winning points to close out the first set 25-12.
In the second set, she did it again. With Arizona up 8-7, the Italian libero served eight straight points, even weathering an LIU timeout meant to break the momentum. When the Sharks finally sided out, the Wildcats led 15-8. They never looked back, giving up just five more points in the set to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set was more competitive, but LIU couldn’t maintain the momentum it needed to make a real dent in Arizona’s march to victory. The Sharks closed the gap to two points on several occasions, but the Wildcats always pushed it back out to four in response. The last two-point gap came at 19-17. Arizona won the final six points to end the match, punctuating it with an ace by Maldonado Diaz.
The Wildcats also used a lot more substitutions than they had in earlier matches. Freshman hitter Sydnie Vanek played a few points, but the change was especially evident in Stubbs’ use of her defensive specialists. She subbed them in for the pins more regularly, giving time to Haven Wray, Ava Tortorello, and Kenzie Schoenhardt. Her only regret was not getting a chance to play setter Kasen Rosenthal, who came in and helped the Wildcats win the third set against Iowa State the day before.
“I wanted to get a chance to get some other players in,” Stubbs said. “I’d love to kind of see what they do in a pressure situation. And being able to get the other people off the floor a little bit to rest them. So, anytime you get the opportunity to play other bodies, you want to do that. And I was caught between a rock and a hard place whether to take Ana off the floor to get Kasen some...set opportunities whereas Ana was in a good place, and you don’t want to change up too much.”
UA will wind up its weekend against host GCU on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Lopes had a full house on Friday with students filling the east side of the arena before the Arizona-Iowa State match. The GCU students were not welcoming to Arizona from the start of warmups through the end of the match despite the two teams not playing that day.
“It’s gonna be really loud tomorrow,” Stubbs said. “They’re gonna be pumped up. They had the crowd booing at us yesterday. So, that was pretty interesting.”