'Cats going streaky
It all started off so well. Arizona volleyball recorded its best start in program history, going 12-0.
And then UCLA came to Tucson, defeated Arizona on home court and took away the Wildcats' perfection and their self-assurance.
""We haven't played well since the UCLA game,"" said head coach Dave Rubio. ""I feel like we've lost a little bit of confidence. It's spilled its way over into the weekend.""
The loss to the then-No. 14 Bruins spiraled into a three-game losing streak after the Wildcats (12-3, 1-3 Pacific 10 Conference) fell at the hands of both Washington State and Washington.
Although Arizona has the fourth-best overall record of 12-3 in the Pac-10, its play in the past two weekends has landed the Wildcats at ninth in the conference standings with a 1-3 conference record.
It wasn't a matter of being overly confident when facing the Washington schools.
The Wildcats were looking to bounce back from the UCLA loss. Even before the start of the Pac-10 season, the Wildcats knew their record was no indication of what lay in store for them.
""In terms of it meaning something, you can be 11-0 and then never win another game,"" said junior Paige Weber after Arizona completed its non-conference schedule undefeated.
""So who cares that you were 11-0?""
There is little question that Arizona will win at least one more game this season, and probably many more than that. But the fact of the matter is that the Wildcats have struggled in their past three games.
Their attacking percentage has dropped significantly, from an average of .275 percent in their wins to just .141 percent in their losses.
Errors have also been a problem for Arizona of late. In the past three games, the Wildcats notched a combined 67 errors, 30 more than their opponents.
""Nothing about that … would be consistent with how we'd played in the past,"" Rubio said.
Identifying the problems on offense, and specifically the attack, is what the Arizona coaches are doing this week.
""Our passing was less of an issue than our scoring was. In the Washington match it was definitely our serve receive that directly led to the lack of scoring,"" Rubio said. ""But the bottom line is that we didn't execute very well. We just made too many errors.""
External factors have also been plaguing Arizona. Once again the injury bug bit junior outside hitter Whitney Dosty. She was sidelined with a hand injury that kept her out of five matches this season, although Arizona did not drop any match that she did not play in.
Influenza has also made its way into McKale Center. Middle blockers Jacy Norton and Stephanie Snow, as well as setter Tori Moore, have all battled the virus in the past week.
While it's not panic time yet for Arizona, the sense of urgency will have to increase. The conference now touts eight nationally ranked teams and records will fluctuate every weekend. The opportunity for the Wildcats to move back up to the front of the conference and the rankings is still alive.
""Obviously it's not something you can ignore, but at the same time, I don't think these last three games by any means dictate the way that we play or the complexion of our team,"" Norton said. ""We're still the same team that went 12-0 … the same team that went on that winning streak and played so well.""
Arizona's journey this young season has had its highs and lows. The preseason poll had the Wildcats picked to finish seventh in the conference. After the first week of play, they promptly shot up the charts to No. 25, and continued to climb up the rankings, reaching as high as No. 18.
Since then, the Wildcats have fallen four places in the rankings. Despite the hype, the players and staff remain hopeful that the losses are just part of the process.
Just like last week, Arizona's test to positively respond to a loss will come this weekend against one ranked team and one unranked team in the Oregon schools.
""I think we're definitely going to rebound. I don't think we're going to keep going on a losing streak,"" outside hitter Dana Hutchinson said. ""Every great team has its ups and downs, and I just think we're in a valley right now, and hopefully we'll be in a peak soon.""