TUCSON, Ariz. – The 2023 Wildcat Classic is upon us, with this year’s edition highlighted by Alabama State, Arizona (host), Long Beach State and NM State. The Aggies are coming off a near-perfect weekend in Illinois, winning nine of 10 sets and going 3-0. NM State dropped just one set to Saint Louis on Saturday after sweeping both Illinois State and Miami (OH) in a Friday doubleheader.
The McKale Center in Tucson will once again be the site for Arizona’s annual tournament. Long Beach State is the lone new member from 2022, replacing LIU. NM State went 2-1 over the weekend a year ago, falling to Arizona and sweeping both LIU and Alabama State.
The Aggies’ schedule for the weekend is listed below:
Friday, Sep. 15
Match 1 – vs. Alabama State, 11:00 AM MDT
Match 2 – at Arizona, 7:00 PM MDT
Saturday, Sep. 16
Match 3 – vs. Long Beach State, 11:00 AM MDT
Scouting the Lady Hornets
Alabama State is currently 1-9 overall, with their lone win coming against Norfolk State in five sets on Sept. 8. Their head coach is Penny Lucas-White, who has a record of 219-199 in her 13 years at Alabama State. They are offensively led by Jylen Whitten, a graduate outside hitter already with 86 kills and 2.68 points per set. Defensively, Temperance Chatman and Taila Gaines pace the team. Chatman leads with 121 digs (3.27 per set), while Gaines has already tallied 27 blocks (0.73 per set).
Alabama State is most recently coming off a 1-3 loss to East Carolina on Saturday. The Lady Hornets dominated the first set, hitting .481 and winning 25-17. The last three sets all went ECU’s way, and a slow finish brought the hitting percentage down to just .128 for the entire match.
Scouting the Wildcats
Arizona is not only the host of the tournament, but the lone Power Five team participating this weekend. They currently find themselves at 3-5, but play against Long Beach State on Thursday night. The team is led by Head Coach Charita Stubbs in her first season. Stubbs had spent 19 years on the staff as an assistant, making the NCAA Tournament 14 times.
Arizona swept NM State in the same tournament a year ago, holding the Aggies to just a .033 hitting percentage. This year’s squad will undoubtedly be looking to avenge last season’s 75-52 defeat in the same arena.
Arizona most recently played a pair of matches in the Badger State, falling in straight sets to both Miami and Wisconsin.
The Wildcats often get their spark from a pair of senior outside hitters in Sofia Maldonado Diaz and Jaelyn Hodge. Maldonado Diaz had a season-high 24 kills on .388 hitting percentage in a five-set thriller against North Carolina. She leads the team in per set and total marks for kills, points and service aces. Hodge barely trails her fellow 6’0″ teammate in nearly every category, tallying 105 kills with a .255 hitting percentage and 3.68 points per set. Her 149 service returns and 73 digs are each top-two marks on the team, proving her versatility.
Scouting the Beach
Long Beach State is currently 3-4, but has faced a gauntlet of a schedule that has already included five Power Five opponents. Their season most notably began with a 3-1 win over previously top-ranked Texas. LBSU has also collected wins against Indiana and Omaha. Their four losses include three teams in the ‘receiving votes’ category of this week’s AVCA Top 25 poll, with the lone exception being Nebraska, who is currently undefeated and fourth in the nation.
The Beach’s head coach is Tyler Hildebrand who is in his second season. He led the team to a 19-9 record in his first year, amassing a 14-6 record in Big West action. LBSU most recently fell to fourth-ranked Nebraska in straight sets on Saturday.
The Beach will likely lean on junior Savana Chacon to slow NM State’s offense, as Chacon boasts nearly four digs per set (3.96) including a career-high 29 in just four sets against Washington. When it comes to Long Beach State’s offense, look for Zayna Meyer to distribute the wealth, as she has 229 assists. Three players have tallied over 50 kills already this season, appearing to signal a balanced attack.
How to Follow
Every match this weekend will be streamed. NM State vs. Arizona will be on Arizona LiveStream (a Pac 12 Network product). Other NM State matches will be on Flo Volleyball.
For complete coverage of NM State Volleyball, follow us on Twitter (@NMStateVBall), Instagram (@NMStateVBall) and like us on Facebook (NM State Volleyball). You can also follow along with Aggie Volleyball via NMStateSports.com.