Arizona Wildcats indoor volleyball expects to make NCAA tournament return
After just missing the NCAA tournament last year, Arizona indoor volleyball is looking to rebound with deep squad.
Last season the Wildcats finished 16-15 and fell just short of making the tournament due to a loss at ASU to end the regular season. Arizona returns 10 from last year, including six starters, and brought in eight newcomers to the team — six freshmen and two transfers.
“Our first and foremost goal is to make it into the tournament, but from there on, we’re just going to make it as far and as deep in the tournament as we can,” junior middle blocker Rachel Rhoades said.
Junior outside hitter Madi Kingdon led the Wildcats in scoring last year with 486.5 total points.
Brian Valencia/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Dave Rubio talks to his players during the volleyball scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013. Rubio is starting his 21st season as head coach at UA.
“I think the team has improved a lot over these last two weeks of double days, and I have high expectations for this season with all the talent and work ethic I’ve seen from the new girls,” Kingdon said.
The Wildcats staged their annual Red and Blue Scrimmage last Saturday, which Kingdon said gave team a good look at who could be in the starting lineup.
Head coach Dave Rubio said he has high expectations for the team.
“If we were to compare it to the teams of the past couple years, I feel like we’re further down the road than we have been in the other years,” Rubio said. “I feel good about what we’re doing every day in practice. I think [with] the experience that we have now … we finally got a little bit of age to us.”
Rubio said that he thinks the team’s lack of experience last year was one factor in the team not doing well.
Rubio said he is concerned about the Wildcats ability to serve the ball faster and said he believes the team still has plenty of room to grow.
Rubio said Kingdon should make other Wildcats better, like junior outside hitter Jane Croson, a transfer from Hawaii.
“She’s certainly our marquee player. I think what’s going to make Madi that much better is Jane Croson.” Rubio said. “Having someone like Madi, opposite her, is going to help her not shoulder the load so much.”
Rhoades said the liberos, passers and serve receivers, are “outstanding this year” and that the Wildcats have a better offense and defense than in the past.
Headlining the freshmen class is setter Penina Snuka, who was ranked as the No. 34 prospect by PrepVolleyball.com. Snuka’s family is comprised of professional wrestling royalty; her uncle is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, her grandfather is former wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, her father is former wrestler “Deuce” and her aunt is wrestler “Tamina.”
A Gilbert, Ariz., native, Snuka went to Kahuku High School in Hawaii her senior year of high school but decided to return to her home state for college.
“Mostly, it was Dave Rubio — the complete connection when I came onto campus. And then from there, I just loved the campus — the facilities and basically the whole aspect of the Wildcat family,” Snuka said about her college choice.
Snuka said the speed of the game in college is the biggest adjustment.
“It’s been pretty good for me. I just need to get used to the speed of the game,” Snuka said. “It’s so much faster than high school ever was.”
Another strength of the team is the depth. Rubio said he thinks this might be as deep of any team he has coached in his 22 years at Arizona.
Freshmen outside hitter Ashley Harris, who is 6-8, and middle blocker McKenzie Jacobson, who is 6-6, are two of the tallest female athletes the UA has ever had, according to the school.
The Wildcats start the season Friday at 1:30 p.m. against Morgan State at home.
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