Arizona Set to Host New Mexico State in Exhibition Match on Saturday
TUCSON, Ariz. -- After nearly 13 full months away from competition, the Arizona volleyball team will finally take the court this weekend with another team on the opposite side of the net. The Wildcats will unofficially kick off their 2020-21 season with an exhibition match vs. New Mexico State on Saturday at 2 p.m. MST in McKale Center.
No fans will be permitted for the exhibition match and for the 2020-21 season until further notice. Fans can follow the action live on Twitter @ArizonaVBall.
The exhibition match will unofficially kick off the season for the Wildcats, who are scheduled to begin the regular season the following weekend, though the Pac-12 has not released a schedule.
Arizona is coming off of a 15-17 season in 2019 and a ninth-place finish in the Pac-12 (5-15). Arizona returns just four letterwinners -- middle blocker Zyonna Fellows, libero Kamaile Hiapo, defensive specialist Malia Kalei Ua and outside hitter Paige Whipple -- from the 2019 Wildcats. Joining them will be the top recruiting class in the Pac-12 and seventh overall nationally in addition to three transfers who will play a big role with the Wildcats.
New Mexico State is coming off a 27-4 season in 2019 in which it won its second consecutive WAC title. The Aggies are projected to win their third straight conference championship this year by the WAC coaches.
Arizona is 18-1 all-time vs. New Mexico State, including a sweep of the Aggies (25-19, 25-19, 25-22) last season in the Wildcat Classic in McKale on Sep. 20, 2019.
The long wait will officially be over for the Wildcats, who, following the cancelation of spring practice in March, returned to campus in the summer to begin preparation for the 2020 season. The NCAA then decided to move the NCAA Tournament to the spring and the Pac-12 canceled the fall volleyball season, opting to move it to the spring. Arizona finished off 2020 with no competitions during the calendar year, and now will finally return to the court.
Arizona will be led by senior outside hitter Paige Whipple, who finished sixth in the Pac-12 in kills/set (3.94) in 2019 and became the 16th player in Arizona history to join the 1,000 career kill club, and sophomore libero Kamaile Hiapo, who set the Arizona freshman record with 377 digs in 2019.
The Wildcats will feature a new setter for the first time in four seasons, with freshman Emery Herman expected to replace three-year starter Julia Patterson, who graduated last spring. Herman and transfer Akia Warrior are the two setters on the roster for the Cats this season.
Arizona has an influx of talent on the pins and in the middle with some key additions, both freshmen and transfers. On the outside, Whipple will be joined by 2019 American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, Tulsa transfer Dilara Gedikoglu, 2019 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year and UA's highest-rated recruit in 15 years Jaelyn Hodge, and Mexican National team member Sofia Maldonado Diaz. In the middle, Rutgers transfer Merle Weidt and true freshman China Rai Crouch will join returning starter Zyonna Fellows.