Talk to Dave Rubio about his freshman class this year, and you’re sure to get a smile.
He raves that setter Penina Snuka already might be among the best in the country, and his freshman class includes the towering McKenzie Jacobson and Ashley Harris, who stand 6 feet 6 inches and 6 feet 8 inches, respectively.
But his prized recruit isn’t a freshman. Or even a player, for that matter.
In 1992, Rubio was hired as the UA head coach and inherited a roster that included talented sophomore middle blocker Charita Johnson.
By the time she left, Johnson was one of the UA’s all-time standouts, becoming the first in Arizona history to record 300 kills, 300 digs and 100 blocks in one season.
Now, 21 years later, she’s Charita Stubbs, and married with children.
Strange then, that earlier this year Rubio was sitting in Stubbs’ North Carolina living room, giving his best recruiting pitch.
“Dave did the full-court press,” Stubbs said. “I wasn’t really recruited to come to college, at least not the way kids are now, and he came out on a visit, we went out to dinner.”
When Steve Walker was named the head coach for the UA’s new sand volleyball team, a spot opened up on Rubio’s staff. Stubbs was the first, and really the only, person Rubio wanted in that spot.
It would be her second go-round as a top Rubio aide — she was an assistant for nine years on his staff before she left for a head coaching gig at North Carolina State in 2006.
Things didn’t exactly work out in her four seasons with the Wolfpack, and she was let go in 2009 after posting a 22-111 record in her tenure.
“I got punched in the gut,” Stubbs said. “It was such a bad experience for me personally that I didn’t want to coach anymore. After the day I was let go, I was offered another head coaching job, and I said no.”
Rubio has asked her to come back to Tucson a “couple times” since she was fired, but she was reluctant.
With one 5-year-old son, and a November adoption of a 10-year-old, she wasn’t quite ready to pack up and move back across the country to the Old Pueblo.
But Rubio insisted.
“I had to fly out to North Carolina to talk to her and convince her, and she came out here a couple times,” Rubio said. “I really had to work hard, and it was well worth it.”
It was worth it, because he got her — in July, she was officially added to the staff
So, what was the pitch?
“He knew I was leaning towards no,” Stubbs said. “He said he would change my responsibilities from what I used to do. And, I left working on my Ph.D. and didn’t finish it. When he said that, it just hit me right in the stomach because I’m the type of person that when I start something, I really want to finish it.”
She got the approval of her husband and kids, and now she’s back. Rubio says it’s like she never left.
Funny, considering when she was a player they didn’t even get along.
“Oh yeah,” Rubio said. “One of the reasons Rita is such a good coach for me is because of her strength, her stubbornness, her willingness to take a stand with me and argue her point. That’s what I need. That’s what I deal with well.”
In some ways, Stubbs feels indebted to Rubio. She said her most memorable moment in her 13-plus years at the UA wasn’t an upset over No. 1 UCLA in 1993, Arizona’s Final Four berth or any of the number of acclaimed recruiting classes she brought in.
It was meeting him.
“The saddest thing is that I haven’t given him what he ultimately deserves, and that’s the ability to win a national championship, so that is my goal,” she said.
“I said that in the back of my head because he’s done so much for me, made me a better person and has given me great opportunities.”
When she graduated, he offered her a job. She said no, and played overseas for a year.
Then, he offered her a job again.
“He’s persistent,” said Stubbs, laughing. “He gets what he wants.”
Added Rubio: “I really missed her when she was gone, and I think that’s even more apparent now that she’s here. It’s like she never left.”
• The sand volleyball team was set for its first official practice on Tuesday, but it was canceled due to thunderstorms and rescheduled for today, said Walker. The team’s inaugural season will start in March.