Arizona volleyball looks better than expected
Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio expressed anxiety over his team’s youth and inexperience heading into the opening weekend of the season. There’s a good chance now that most of Rubio’s worries have faded, as the No. 17 Wildcats went 3-0 at the SMU Invite in Dallas to begin the year.
With a manageable slate of opponents coming up this week, the UA could very well start off 6-0.
For a team relying heavily on newcomers, whether they are transfers or freshmen, such a start could go a long way in assuring the Wildcats meet their goal of reaching the postseason.
Arizona made quick work of the opening weekend competition, first defeating host SMU three sets to one in the season opener before beating Texas State and Abilene Christian in straight sets.
Perhaps just as impressively, the Wildcats did so in a balanced fashion, inserting a total of 13 players across the three games.
On attack, five Wildcats tallied double-digits in kills across the three games, with senior transfer Nikki Attea leading the team with 33.
Attea was one of six starters to play every set over the weekend.
One of those starters was freshman Tyler Spriggs, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter out of Los Angeles. In her collegiate debut against SMU, Spriggs led the team with 16 kills.
“It’s hard to imagine a freshman doing what [Spriggs] did [Friday night],” Rubio said in a statement. “I’m really proud of her and it really speaks to the talent that she is.”
Spriggs has big shoes to fill at outside hitter, as she must help the team replace the scoring production of Madi Kingdon and Taylor Arizobal from last year.
Having freshmen that can immediately come in and produce suggests Arizona’s rebuilding efforts on offense could pan out quicker than expected.
Arizona also received solid offensive play throughout the weekend from Kalei Mau and McKenzie Jacobson, who recorded 26 and 23 kills, respectfully.
Jacboson was the most efficient scorer, earning a .400 attack percentage. As a team, Arizona leaves the first weekend of play with a team attacking percentage of .259.
The Wildcats were just as strong on defense by limiting opponents to just over nine kills per set; Arizona averaged nearly 15 kills, by contrast.
Unsuprisingly, it was All-Pac-12 Conference setter Penina Snuka who led the way with 10.90 assists per set. Only one other player, Laura Larson, averaged at least one assist per set.
Snuka was also the team leader with 5.60 digs per set. While the NCAA has not yet updated statistics for the new season, that average would have ranked among the best in the country in 2014.
In short, Snuka did just about everything on defense.
Arizona still has plenty to work on in the upcoming weeks, including an errors per set average that is probably a little too high for Rubio’s liking. But this first weekend went about as well as the head coach could have expected given the team’s plethora of fresh faces.
The Wildcats now have a few days of practice before they take on a trio of teams in the Arizona Invitational this weekend.
Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.