Dave Rubio is no stranger to starting strong.
Now, the Wildcats are 7-2. The usual.
It’s the 22nd straight year the Wildcats have had a winning record through nine games. As in, the entirety of Rubio’s tenure as UA head coach.
Only four of those years did Arizona start worse than 7-2, and in one of them — 2002 — the Cats went to the Final Four.
Sometimes, though, those fast starts don’t exactly lead to a swift finish. Consider:
• In 1995, Arizona started 12-3 but finished 14-14.
• In 2006, the Wildcats started 7-2 but finished 13-15.
• In 2007, the team started 10-2 and ended up 14-17.
• In 2008, the UA started 11-2 only to go 5-12 the rest of the way. The Wildcats finished 16-14.
The common denominator? All four years ended sans an NCAA tournament bid.
“We’re ready to take care of business this year,” said middle blocker Rachel Rhoades, “and do what we need to do to get to the tournament.”
With the strength of the Pac-12, a 16-14 or 17-13 record can still be good enough to get into the NCAAs.
Just how good is the Pac-12? Check the standings.
So far, only one team (Oregon) has three losses, five have one loss, and two are undefeated. Five teams are ranked in the Top 25.
So the Wildcats need to win the games they are supposed to.
Like, this weekend’s.
Arizona will face Loyola Maryland on Friday, and Wofford and UC-Santa Barbara on Saturday. Combined, the three schools are 9-19.
“I mean, you just have to take every game seriously,” Rhoades said. “So if we take every game against someone like Cal State-Northridge or the teams we’re supposed to beat the same way we do Stanford, then we’re gonna be mentally prepared for every match in the same way.”
The Wildcats aren’t playing Northridge this year, but Rhoades was referring to last year’s early-season loss to the Matadors. Arizona wound up 16-15 and missed the NCAA tournament, and that loss was a big reason why.
“Our hope is that we can do our damage in the nonconference season,” Rubio said before the season. “Last year we lost to Northridge, Pepperdine and TCU. If we win any of those three games, we’re in the tournament.”
So far, Arizona hasn’t had any “bad losses”.
They lost to a Kansas team that was ranked in the preseason. Last week, playing without outside hitter Jane Croson, Arizona fell to No. 7 Hawaii.
“We can’t look ahead,” Rhoades said, “because if we lose to any of those teams this weekend, that’s going to look really bad on our record.
“We just gotta take care of business.”
Cats among conference’s leaders
As a team, the Wildcats are in the top half of the Pac-12 in almost every major statistic, but most impressively the UA leads the league in digs with 563 (17.59 per game). Arizona leads the conference in double-doubles with 12, team spokesman Ryan Dunn said.
“I didn’t even know that,” said outside hitter Shaquillah Torres. “I think it’s awesome. Just to hear that, it’s a proud accomplishment. I think it says something about our team at this point in the season that having that kind of numbers, it pushes us to get better every day.”
Madi Kingdon, an outside hitter, has half of the team’s double-doubles all on her own and leads the conference.
Ready to “dig” into the UA leaderboard
If all goes well, libero Candace Nicholson should surpass Terry Lauchner this weekend as Arizona’s all-time leader in digs.
Nicholson, one of two UA seniors, has 1,266 heading into the three matches on Friday and Saturday, just 31 digs short of Lauchner’s record of 1,297 set when she was a Wildcat from 1987 to 1990.
In three matches last week, Nicholson had 45 digs.