Column: Rubio's worries fade as Arizona volleyball impresses
Arizona's Kalei Mau (10) spikes against California State Northridge during the Arizona Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 5.
With the loss of many senior leaders and the addition of multiple transfer students such as Nikki Attea, McKenna Painton and Mackenzie Kleespies, many questioned how the No. 16 ranked Arizona volleyball team would start the season.
Even UA volleyball head coach Dave Rubio expressed his concern earlier in the year, anxious at how the new group would perform together and how the freshman and transfer students would handle wearing the Wildcat uniform in a game situation for the first time.
Rubio’s worries faded after a dominant performance in Dallas at the SMU Invite, where the Wildcats won all three of their matches.
The most impressive win came against SMU, a team that finished 26-6 a year ago and had five starters return.
The Wildcats carried their momentum into the Arizona Invitational last weekend, where they defeated South Dakota, Florida A&M and Cal State Northridge.
The Wildcats are now 6-0 and ranked No. 13 in the nation after remarkably dropping just one set in their six matches. Not everything has come easy, though.
The score of the SMU match was tied 1-1 and the Mustangs were up 23-18 in a decisive third set. It seemed as though Arizona would fall to 2-1 in sets and be in danger of losing the match, but the Wildcats came together to win the third set and eventually the match.
The Arizona Invitational also provided challenges for the Wildcats.
Arizona once again showed it could play in tough situations in its home opener in McKale Center. South Dakota looked as though it would take the second set after going ahead 23-22, but the Wildcats again stepped up and won three points in a row to steal the set.
Rubio said he wanted to see how his team would perform and respond to the tight, tough, pressure situations to prepare for Pac-12 Conference play. Twice already this season, they have stepped up and shown they can handle and play well when it is most important.
It is inevitable that when playing ranked Pac-12 teams like No. 3 Stanford, No. 6 USC, No. 10 ASU and No. 12 Oregon, that the Wildcats will find themselves in close games and tough situations.
The Wildcats have shown they can handle the pressure and seem to be ready for even more elevated competition in the Pac-12, which starts Sept. 24 against rival ASU.
Rubio said he is looking for his team to continue progressing, and said that the ultimate goal is to compete in the Final Four and win a national championship.
So far, at 6-0 and only having dropped one set through six matches, Arizona could get there if it continues to play up to its potential against the steep Pac-12 competition.