The straight-set victory over Texas Southern was important. It helped the Wildcats end the non-conference season 8-3 and sweep the Wildcat Classic in just nine sets. With Pac-12 play just days away, that wasn’t the only goal for Arizona volleyball on Saturday.
Freshman middle blocker Nicole Briggs and junior outside hitter Dilara Gedikoglu started in place of Merle Weidt and Jaelyn Hodge. Weidt came in during the second set, but Hodge rested.
Briggs didn’t know until immediately before the match that she would be starting.
“I like being told right before so I’m not overthinking,” she said.
Both Briggs and Gedikoglu made early impressions, scoring two of the Wildcats’ first three points of the match. Gedikoglu ended the day with a season-high five kills and two aces for seven points. Five freshmen eventually got into the match with setter Ava Tortorello, middle blocker Alayna Johnson, and defensive specialist Madison Ellman rotating in along with starter Puk Stubbe.
“The biggest thing for me is those guys need as much experience as I can give them,” Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said. “And whether or not someone goes down, you never know. Jennifer Wroblicky has been down since the second week of the season and we’ve had a history of concussions here anyway. If Merle or Zyonna (Fellows) went down, then we want to make sure that we try to put those guys in position to be successful.”
The team was led by Sofia Maldonado Diaz and Stubbe with nine kills each. Both players were efficient. Maldonado Diaz hit .250 and Stubbe was at .389. Maldonado Diaz added two block assists for a match-high 10 points.
The Wildcats also got production out of all four of their middle blockers. Seniors Weidt and Fellows each had four kills on five swings with no errors. Weidt added two blocks and Fellows had one.
Briggs added two kills on three swings without committing an error. Fellow freshman middle blocker Alayna Johnson matched the two seniors with four kills on .667 hitting. Both freshmen had one block.
“I was happier today than I was last night,” Rubio said. “Today was better. We missed too many serves and anytime we start missing like that, I sort of feel like we’ve been lacking in concentration. But I think overall, I was pleased with what happened.”
Arizona had 11 service errors against seven aces for the match.
The Wildcats dominated the first set, leading from wire to wire in a 25-12 frame. Things were a little more difficult in the final two sets, but they were able to keep control.
Texas Southern stayed close to Arizona through the first half of the second set. The Tigers took their last lead at 10-9. Even after that, the Wildcats didn’t lead by more than two points until they took a 17-14 lead.
After stretching the lead out to six points at 20-14, Arizona saw Texas Southern come rushing back as the lead narrowed to 21-18. That would be the last point scored by the Tigers as the Wildcats closed the set on a 4-0 run.
TSU started quickly in set three. The Tigers took an early 4-1 lead, but the Wildcats responded with their own 4-1 run to tie things up at five points each. Arizona closed the match out by outscoring TSU 20-7 from the final tie.
Arizona travels to Tempe to face Arizona State on Thursday as Pac-12 play tips off. On Sunday, the Wildcats return to McKale to face Oregon State.