There is no longer such a thing as a “walk in the park” in Pac-12 volleyball.
From top to bottom, particularly this year, there might not a single sight for sore eyes.
“Playing in this conference,” said UA head coach Dave Rubio, “it’s brutal.”
Arizona’s Pac-12 gauntlet begins tonight at 8, when the Wildcats (10-2) travel to Tempe to face No. 18 Arizona State (11-1).
The Sun Devils will, just like everybody else, will be challenge. Through nonconference play, just one Pac-12 team — Oregon — has more than two losses.
Here’s a look at how the conference stacks up, in terms of winning percentage, with the other five major conferences.
Pac-12: 110-16 (.873)
Big Ten: 110-25 (.814)
SEC: 123-37 (.768)
Big 12: 84-32 (.724)
ACC: 120-56 (.681)
Big East: 75-37 (.669)
To top it off, the Pac-12 has six teams in the latest Top 25 coaches poll, and four in its Top 11. The Wildcats aren’t one of them, though. In the preseason, Arizona was picked to finish eighth in the conference.
Ultimately, UA’s standing won’t matter too much come NCAA tournament selection time, but if the Wildcats come out of conference play with a decent record, they will be in pretty good shape.
But, from now until Nov. 29, when Arizona closes out Pac-12 play against ASU, it will be a grind.
Shaquillah Torres, a junior outside hitter, points to the Wildcats’ improved nonconference performance compared to last year, when the UA fell to Pepperdine, Cal State Northridge and TCU. Arizona went on to finish 8-12 in Pac-12 play and missed the NCAAs.
This time around, Arizona lost closely contested matches against No. 7 Hawaii and then-ranked Kansas.
“Competing with teams like Kansas and Hawaii,” Torres said, “they’re tough teams to beat. So, it keeps us prepared for conference because the Pac-12 is not an easy conference, especially this year. Having those two games makes us learn from our mistakes so we don’t make those mistakes in conference.”
For Rachel Rhoades, a middle blocker, competing every day in practice is what has the Wildcats ready for what the Pac-12 has to offer.
“It comes naturally for all of us,” Rhoades said about competing against talented league teams the rest of the way, “because of how competitive our team is. Every day in practice I’m competing against the other middles.
“All of us. We’re all really good middles and we have to compete for time on the court.”
“We’re out there,” she added. “To the Pac-12, we’re coming for ya.”
• Monday, junior outside hitter Madi Kingdon was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, and setter Penina Snuka won Freshman of the Week. Kingdon is the first Wildcat to be named player of the week since Tiffany Owens took home the weekly honor on Nov. 22, 2010.