Arizona volleyball will try to continue its winning ways in Hawaii, but will have to do so without star junior outside hitter Jane Croson.
This weekend, the Wildcats will play in the Hawaii tournament in Honolulu, with matches against Northwestern on Thursday, Portland State on Friday and Hawaii on Saturday. It will be a tough task for the team, as Croson won’t be making the trip.
Croson, a transfer from Hawaii, has agreed not to play in the tournament as part of the deal that let her leave Hawaii for the UA. So far this season, Croson has 65 kills, second on the team only to fellow junior outside hitter Madi Kingdon.
“It’s a situation where I felt it was in [her] best interest for her to stay at home, so that changes the dynamics for us for sure,” head coach Dave Rubio said. “But we’ll get by. Shaq [Shaquillah Torres] and Taylor [Arizobal] will carry the load in her place.”
So far this season Arizobal is fifth on the team with 27 kills,, and Torres has 16 kills for seventh on the team.
Kingdon said she isn’t worried about Croson not being with the team and is confident her replacements will step up.
“I think that our team will be able to pull through without her,” Kingdon said. “We just need to clean up a few things before we go with whoever is going to play on the outside.”
Kingdon also said that she is confident the team will treat the tournament as a business trip, not a vacation.
“I think we’ll do well in this tournament,” Kingdon said. “I think everyone is ready to go … Today’s practice was really good, hopefully we can continue it into the tournament.”
As if the loss of Croson wasn’t enough, the Wildcats’ three opponents won’t go easy on them. Their first match is against the Big Ten’s Northwestern.
The Northwestern Wildcats are 4-2 so far this season, and the team is led by senior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus, who has 94 kills this year. Next on the team is junior right side hitter Katie Dutchman with 69 kills thus far this season. Redshirt sophomore defensive specialist/libero Caroline Niedospial leads the team with 99 digs.
“Last time we played them, we lost in the first round of the playoffs … three or four years ago,” Rubio said. “I don’t have a lot of information, but they have an all-American outside hitter who is terrific. They have a couple of freshmen starting, but … they got some talent.”
On Friday, Arizona will take on Portland State (3-4). The Vikings are led by senior outside hitter Kaeli Patton, who has 85 kills this season.
The last match of the tournament for the Wildcats will take place Saturday night against host Hawaii (5-1). The team will be in for a tough fight, as Hawaii is consistently one of the best in the country. Hawaii’s head coach Dave Shoji is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball.
Senior outside hitter Emily Hartong has 110 kills so far this season and senior libero Ali Longo leads the team with 88 digs.
“Hawaii is really good. They always win their conference,” Kingdon Said. “I know a few girls who play on their team and we just have to have the right mindset going in, knowing that they’re a team we’re going to have to play hard [against] and compete with.”
— Follow Derek Evans @DerekEvans20