Entering this season, the Arizona volleyball team has made it to three straight NCAA tournaments. But this year, the Wildcats roster is made up in such a way that the possibility of a NCAA tournament berth is less likely than in years past.
Arizona has only six returning players, and zero seniors. The roster includes 10 newcomers, made up of seven freshman and three transfers.
At Saturday’s annual Red-Blue scrimmage, head coach Dave Rubio started to get an idea of how his inexperienced roster fits together.
“I was able to see exactly where we stand,” Rubio said. “We are going to have to depend on our freshmen to play like sophomores with such a young team.”
Rubio, now in his 21st season as the UA’s head coach, is back to the drawing board as he looks to fiddle with his roster.
The experience the returning players have gained the last few years will be paramount as the Wildcats prepare to take the court together again after a tough season-ending loss to Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in December.
“We still have a long way to be comfortable with each other. It’s been hard but I just have to focus on the team now,” junior Candace Nicholson said. “I think our freshman starters will have to play older. ”
Junior transfer Chanel Brown, is a setter coming from the University of Florida where she helped the Gators reach the Elite Eight in the 2011 season.
“As a team we just need to grow together and find that competitive fire,” Brown said. “I know coach Rubio is expecting a lot out of me and I am definitely ready to step in and motivate the younger players.”
The Wildcats stayed at the same No. 7 spot they held last season in the Pac-12 rankings and will have to face NCAA Champions UCLA and volleyball powerhouses USC and Stanford later in the season. Brown’s experience will help lead the team against tougher match ups.
“Chanel is probably the most experienced player on the floor,” Rubio said. “She, like everyone else, is adjusting to a new system, but I am hoping she will bring calmness to the court.”
The team admittedly struggled to streamline the offense at the scrimmage on Saturday, and with less than a week remaining until the Wildcat Classic, the group will be in overdrive as they prepare to kick start the season.
“It will take some time for the girls to get used to each other,” Nicholson said. “The advantage is that, like last season, there are no expectations so anything can happen. We have the talent.”
Rubio said the lack of experience doesn’t take away from the talent he believes the newcomers possess. “We’ll just have to see what happens. We have a lot of work to do,” Rubio said.