The Arizona volleyball team consistently shows it’s capable of competing against ranked teams. With 10 games left in the season, the young Wildcats found more confidence after they took No. 15 Oregon to five sets last week.
The results, however, have been lacking. Arizona is 2-8 in the Pac-12 as it opens up the second half of conference play. The Wildcats (8-11) will host Cal Friday at 7 p.m. and Stanford on Sunday afternoon.
Here’s what the UA must do to pull off an upset.
1. Play with energy: The Cats’ spirit was sparked after taking the Ducks to five sets, and coach Dave Rubio is pleased. “I’ve actually been pretty satisfied with the energy of the team,” he said. “I think despite our record and the disappointing losses, the players have been pretty mindful about the process that we’re in and understand that we’re pretty close. It’s just a matter of executing a little better at the end of every set.”
2. Keep growing: Arizona is a young team with seven freshmen and redshirt freshmen and, junior Kendra Dahlke admits, it has been an adjustment. There is a different feel on the court compared to how the team has been playing the past couple years, but she knows the underclassmen are willing to learn.
“They’re being super-coachable and that’s probably the biggest thing,” Dahlke said. “They’re willing to take information and apply it right away. They all adjusted well to the coaching we have and have just been really good about listening and executing.”
Dahlke says the team has been practicing hard.
“It’s really going to help us later on, maybe towards the end of this season and on to next year,” she said.
3. Find — and follow — the leader: As the young team evolves, leadership is an issue. Dahlke and setter Julia Patterson filled that void.
“There was quite a vacuum that was left by the group that graduated last year,” Rubio said. “Part of that vacuum was leadership and the stability of what those players gave us. In just the last three or four weeks, I’ve thought Kendra has really stepped in and started to provide better leadership, a little more solidarity and a little more dependability.” Rubio also mentioned young players like Paige Whipple, Liz Shelton and Katie Smoot have shined and they will blossom into leaders.
What does the team need to work on for the rest of the season? Simply put, winning.
“What happens to us is we put ourselves in the beginning and middle of each set,” Rubio said. “We’ll do pretty well, then we start to break down towards the end of the set. We’ve just got to reverse that.”
It comes down to being able to serve better and apply pressure from the end line, coaches and players said.
“The future is really bright and I think everyone sees that,” Rubio said. “The process can be painful. In our league there is not a lot of forgiveness for being young and inexperienced, but you know, the good news is that time heals all wounds.”