Arizona volleyball: Core of juniors gives Wildcats energy

2013-08-15T00:00:00Z Arizona volleyball: Core of juniors gives Wildcats energyZack Rosenblatt Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It's been 265 days since Arizona lost to ASU. It was the last 1 hour 51 minutes of the Wildcats' season.

Practices in fall camp have been two-a-day, at 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., each lasting three hours.

On Tuesday, practice went two hours 15 minutes longer than it was supposed to. The afternoon one was canceled.

The season starts in 15 days.

Time isn't an element in a volleyball match - first to 25 points, three times, wins.

Yet, last year, the Wildcats just didn't have enough of it.

On a roster of 16, there were 12 underclassmen and zero seniors.

So, the sophomores had to be seniors - before they were even juniors.

"We had to figure out our bond, and how we were going to carry the team," said middle blocker Rachel Rhoades.

"But," she added, "we just needed more time to do it."

When inexperience becomes experience, skepticism becomes confidence.

Last year, coach Dave Rubio admitted, he would have been happy if the team won half its games. Still, even with lower expectations, the Wildcats were in the race for the NCAA tournament with two games to play.

They lost both of them.

There's a different energy surrounding the team this year, and it's because of last year's sophomore class.

"Now," Rubio said, "that junior class is the core of our team."

That "core" includes Ronni Lewis, Rhoades, and outside hitters Shaquillah Torres, Madi Kingdon and Taylor Arizobal.

They have remained the constant on a roster that has seen its share of turnover.

They joined the UA as part of a seven-member recruiting class in 2011 and lost the other two to transfer. And in two years, in total, the Wildcats have lost 10 non-seniors to transfer.

So, besides Arizona's lone four-year senior - libero Candace Nicholson - Lewis, Rhoades, Torres, Kingdon and Arizobal are the team's most experienced.

"We've all worked hard to get where we are now," said Lewis. "It's our time to break through."

"Time," added Rhoades, "has given us more confidence."

Here's a closer look at the Wildcats core players. Arizona will open its season at home in the Arizona Invitational on Aug. 30 and 31 at McKale Center and will hold a Red-Blue Scrimmage on Aug. 24:

Madi Kingdon

Height: 6 feet 1 inch

Position: Outside hitter

2012 stats: 486.5 points, 443 kills, 7 assists, 16 aces, 44 blocks

They said it: "I'm real proud of Madi Kingdon. These past two years Madi's been our biggest offensive tool. Madi is holding her own and doing really well. She's improved a lot." - Rhoades

Taylor Arizobal

Height: 6-2

Position: Outside hitter

2012 stats: 378 points, 320 kills, 6 assists, 29 aces, 45 blocks

They said it: "We're all jelling as a team pretty well. My freshman year I know we weren't jelling; well, we were jelling, but the fast rate we are now is great." - Arizobal

Rachel Rhoades

Height: 6-1

Position: Middle blocker

2012 stats: 180.5 points, 127 kills, 6 assists, 3 aces, 91 blocks

They said it: "I expect to be a starting middle blocker and improve on my offense. I want to be a bigger threat in the middle than these past two years I've been here. I think I've improved a lot, but I'd like to see some more offense from me." - Rhoades

Shaquillah Torres

Height: 6-1

Position: Outside hitter

2012 stats: 183 points, 156 kills, 6 assists, 50 blocks

They said it: "Shaq, she's doing really well. She's killin' it." - Arizobal

Ronni Lewis

Height: 5-5

Position: Libero

2012 stats: 18 points, 1 kill, 40 assists, 17 aces

They said it: "Ronni took a step forward last year. She became the libero after Candace (Nicholson) got sick. Candace didn't do anything wrong; Ronni just kind of stepped up her game." - Rubio

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Utah 6 2 0 0.750 16 4 0 0.800
Stanford 6 2 0 0.750 15 5 0 0.750
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Oregon State 5 4 0 0.556 13 7 0 0.650
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California 2 6 0 0.250 12 9 0 0.571
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