It has been a year of freshman sensations for Arizona volleyball, but on Friday night it was senior Paige Whipple who led the Wildcats to a 3-1 (27-25, 22-25, 25-9, 25-22) victory over Colorado. She did it on the way to an historic achievement.
Whipple entered the match at No. 13 on Arizona’s career kills list with 1,108. That was 15 behind associate head coach Rita Stubbs. If she was to tie or pass her coach, Whipple would have to have her best match of the season.
She did just that.
Last year, Whipple was one of the only offensive threats Arizona as injuries decimated the lineup over the course of the season. She had at least 10 kills 26 times in 32 matches. This year, she had only reached that mark three times in 14 matches. Two of those matches went to five sets.
At 17-16 in the fourth set, Whipple found the floor for the 15th time in the match, tying the former Charita Johnson for 12th on the list. The two had been trading jabs with each other on Twitter about the milestone.
“She’s a little salty that I’m about to pass it but it’s okay,” Whipple joked.
“It’s important that we say it’s a tie still,” Stubbs said lightheartedly.
I’m coming for you @CharitaJStubbs https://t.co/xV5KHzXSoH
— Paige Whipple (@pwhipple21) March 12, 2021
Whipple accomplished the feat while hitting .333. Both stats were season highs, surpassing the 14 kills on .243 hitting she had against Arizona State in a five-set loss on Sunday. She also had 11 digs for the double-double and contributed two assists. The addition of two blocks gave her 16.0 points.
For the first half of the match, it was middle blocker Merle Weidt pacing the Wildcats on offense. Weidt ended the night with 10 kills on a match-high .625 hitting.
“Merle I don’t believe had any attack errors, and she was going up and being effective,” Stubbs said. “Being able to start off the match getting the middles involved puts the opponent on alert.”
Freshman Jaelyn Hodge also had a big night with 12 kills on .208 hitting and two blocks. Fellow freshman Sofia Maldonado Diaz had eight kills and three blocks.
As a team, the Wildcats had an impressive night blocking the Buffaloes. Arizona had 12 total blocks in four sets, surpassing the 10 they had in five sets at ASU.
On the serve, 10 aces against just four service errors helped the Wildcats keep the Buffs off balance. Four of those came from sophomore libero Kamaile Hiapo. Maldonado Diaz, Emery Herman and Jaleesa Caroccio contributed two each.
“I thought the difference in today’s match was the serving,” head coach Dave Rubio said. “I thought we did a nice job of keeping them out of their offense. When they pass well, they’re difficult to defend, so I thought one of the key points for us was going to be the ability to serve.”
The Wildcats won a tight first set, then dropped another close one to Colorado. The response was something that might not have happened earlier in the season, as Arizona dominated the Buffs in the third 25-9, then held tough to close it out 25-22.
“It was nice that we responded well,” Rubio said. “My whole thing today was just trying to play a little cleaner from step one all the way through.”
The Wildcats will try to do it again on Sunday when they meet Colorado at 12 p.m. MST and Whipple tries to claim that No. 12 spot as hers alone.
.@pwhipple21 had a season-high 15 kills in @ArizonaVBall‘s win over Colorado, tying her with assistant coach @CharitaJStubbs for 12th-most in UA history (1,123).
Here’s reaction from both of them + head coach Dave Rubio, who said “the timing couldn’t be better.” pic.twitter.com/SHHJP1Lpf6
— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) March 13, 2021
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