Lots of returners hope to keep UA volleyball team on track in 2014

2013-12-09T00:00:00Z Lots of returners hope to keep UA volleyball team on track in 2014By Zack Rosenblatt Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

SAN DIEGO — Arizona’s volleyball season ended with a resounding thud.

More like a bounce.

Junior Jane Croson’s serve went wide, and the ball landed out of bounds just in front of San Diego’s bench, allowing the Toreros to sweep the Wildcats 3-0 Saturday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

UA coach Dave Rubio wasn’t ready to reflect. He was mad. He was disappointed.

“It’s hard to have perspective on the season at this point,” he said after the loss at Jenny Craig Pavilion. “It’s frustrating that its coming to an end.”

Still, he threw in a little reflection, however brief.

“It was a good year,” Rubio said.

The Wildcats went 21-13, earning their most wins in eight years.

They made the NCAA tournament, which they didn’t do last year, and they won in the first round — the first time since 2005.

“Everyone has tournament experience now, and there’s not many new girls coming in,” said junior Madi Kingdon, Arizona’s star outside hitter. “We should be able to do as good — if not better — next year.”

The Cats lose senior Candace Nicholson, a libero and Arizona’s all-time digs leader, and Shaquillah Torres, an outside hitter whose career is being cut short due to chronic knee problems.

But everyone else returns.

Across the net Saturday, you could see what that meant.

The Toreros have five seniors and five juniors, with eight playing big roles in USD’s win Saturday and its 26-3 record.

“They have a lot of seniors,” Rubio, “and they’re a team that’s really good.”

Next year, the Wildcats will have five seniors and four juniors, plus two sophomores with significant NCAA experience.

It remains to be seen if they’ll be a team that’s “really good,” but the pieces are certainly in place.

“This team has a lot of talent,” Nicholson said. “They’re not losing too many players. They should be able to pick up where they left off, so they have a chance to be really good.”

For one, there is Kingdon, a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate.

Only one UA player has ever won that award.

Dana Burkholder, who was in the crowd Saturday, won it in 2000.

Kingdon had 508 kills this season, a feat accomplished by only three other Wildcats.

For her career she has 1,309 kills, or the sixth-most in UA history. If she gets 500-plus again next season, she’ll finish her career in the top three in program history.

Croson, Arizona’s other outside hitter, will be back. A transfer from Hawaii, she’s now been to the NCAA tournament three straight years, and finished 2013 with 300 kills.

Elsewhere, the Wildcats are stacked at middle blocker with soon-to-be juniors Halli Amaro and Olivia Magill, plus Rachel Rhoades, who will be a senior.

“All of our middles are outstanding,” said Rhoades, the hero in Friday’s first round win against New Mexico State. “We all work hard and it’s good to know if I’m not stepping up my game we have other middles who will.”

Freshman Ashley Harris, a 6-foot-8-inch outside hitter, played in spurts this season. And with some development, she’s a tall, interesting weapon not many other team’s possess.

The biggest question mark probably lies in who replaces Nicholson at libero, but Rubio seems fairly confident Ronni Lewis, who will be a senior, is up to the task.

Finally, there’s Penina Snuka, the All-Pac-12 Freshman setter.

In Arizona’s first match of the season in August, at McKale Center, the PA announcer struggled with her name.

He said Penina “Snookie.”

He probably won’t make the same mistake again — Snuka finished fifth in the Pac-12 with 10.1 assists per game.

“With her setting and my hitting,” Kingdon said, “mutually we’ll get better and better with each other. I think next year should be a good year.”

She could be right, but Rubio just wants the Wildcats to remember how they felt Saturday when they take the court again in August.

“Well, like I told them, anytime you lose … it sucks,” Rubio said. “When you lose in the tournament it’s that much more painful. It should be painful, but the hope is they all walk out of there with more focus and are ready and prepared to do the things necessary to make a deeper run.”

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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