Friday wasn’t just a difficult day for Arizona volleyball as a team. In their split against UTEP and Northwestern, star outside hitter Sofia Maldonado Diaz struggled with errors. In the morning loss to the Miners, it was 10 errors against 10 kills. In the evening win over New Mexico State, it was 10 errors to 12 kills. On Saturday morning, the sophomore returned to normal, hitting .300 with 17 kills. It was the difference between the Wildcats going 1-2 or 2-1 over the weekend.
With Maldonado Diaz contributing 17 kills, an assist, an ace, three digs, and a block while only committing five errors, Arizona was able to squeak out the five-set victory (20-25, 27-25, 25-17, 15-25, 17-15) against a Northwestern team that head coach Dave Rubio called a “big, physical, kind of normal Big Ten type of team.”
Fellow sophomore Jaelyn Hodge had 15 kills. However, she struggled with errors, hitting just .041 with 13 errors on the day. Hodge also contributed seven digs, an assist, and an ace.
Middle blocker Merle Weidt and setter Emery Herman gave Arizona a much-needed offensive boost as well. Weidt had eight kills with no errors for a .727 hitting percentage. She added three blocks and two digs.
Herman’s stats were impressive across the board. She finished just three kills short of a triple-double with seven kills, 40 assists, 10 digs, 4 blocks, and an ace. Her 10.5 points were third on the team behind Maldonado Diaz (18.5) and Hodge (16).
Northwestern entered the match having lost to both UTEP and NMSU in five sets on Friday. They battled Arizona in the early going, then started to pull away after the teams tied things up at 10 points apiece. Eventually, the Wildcats from Illinois built a 20-13 lead.
Arizona tried to close the gap, coming within four points of NU, but the hole they had dug was too deep. NU took the first by a 25-20 score that looked much closer than it was.
Things didn’t look good for Arizona as Northwestern came out on a 4-0 run in the second set. They led by as many as five when Arizona started chipping away, tying it at 18-18.
From 21-21, Arizona never trailed. NU managed to tie things up three times, wiping away two Arizona set points, but they were never able to overcome. A kill by Hodge followed by an ace from Puk Stubbe leveled the match at one set apiece.
Arizona took the lead at 7-6 in the third. They gave it up briefly when Northwestern went up 16-15, but Arizona scored 10 of the final 11 points of the set to take the 2-1 lead.
Northwestern didn’t go away. They never trailed in set four as Arizona hit .095 as a team.
Arizona moved to 5-1 on the season and 2-1 in five-set matches by taking a tight fifth set. Once again, they fell behind Northwestern by as many as three points early in the 15-point set. Once again, they fought back. After missing out on two match points, Arizona finally closed things out on a kill from Weidt.
Arizona returns home with an even more difficult task ahead of them. Next week, they travel to Austin to face the Texas Longhorns, the current No. 1 and last year’s national runners-up. There is a lot of work ahead of them this week if the Wildcats hope to even be competitive.