Arizona’s win against Oregon State on Sunday was important for a few reasons.
For one, it broke a three-match skid.
It also gave the Wildcats their second road win of the season.
And, with their 16th tally in the win column, Arizona (16-8, 6-6 Pac-12) matched its total from a season ago, when the Wildcats went 16-15 and narrowly missed the NCAA tournament.
“We’re far ahead of where we were last year in our record, but also in terms of emotionally. Where we are is a different place,” coach Dave Rubio said. “The Pac-12 is far more competitive this year than it was last year. We just gotta keep our focus on staying in the present, don’t look ahead and don’t look back.”
He doesn’t want to focus on the past, or the future. But we do.
Here’s a look at what’s happened for the Wildcats this season, and a look at what’s to come. Past, present and future:
Past: We’re three-fourths of the way through the season, and a few things can be said with confidence.
One, Madi Kingdon is pretty good at this volleyball thing. She’s first in the Pac-12 in kills, first in points and points per set, second in kills per set and double doubles. The scary part? She keeps getting better.
Two, setter Penina Snuka has lived up to the hype. Rubio’s prized recruit is sixth in the conference in assists and first in double-doubles.
“She’s really made some good strides, especially recently,” Rubio said. “Fundamentally, she’s doing things more consistently. Her sets in the middle is one of the reasons we’re doing better offensively, I think.”
Three, Arizona’s defense is great; the offense, not so much. The Wildcats rank in the top three in the three defensive categories (digs, blocks, opponent hitting percentage), but in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in offense (kills, hitting percentage, assists, service aces).
“You’re looking to strike a balance between the two. We have to score points. I think defensively, it’s keeping us in matches and keeping us in position to win. So we’re always looking to improve our ability to score.”
Four, the road is not Arizona’s friend. The Wildcats are the lone team in the top 75 of the RPI to have fewer than three road wins — the UA is 2-6. And, the two wins have come against Washington State and Oregon State, the bottom dwellers of the Pac-12.
Present: The Wildcats have a short week this week — they faced Oregon on Saturday night (and lost 3-2), traveled an hour to Corvallis immediately after, played Oregon State on Sunday afternoon and got back to Tucson at 1 p.m. on Monday. They will face Washington State today at 8 p.m., and No. 3 Washington on Sunday, both at McKale Center.
Arizona handled Washington State last time, winning 3-2 in Pullman. Since, the Cougars are 1-5. The Huskies on the other hand, have gone the other way. They just beat No. 4 USC and only have one Pac-12 loss. Their 3-1 victory over the UA last month was fairly seamless, too.
Future: Luckily for Arizona, including the Washington series it will play at home in six of its final eight matches — the UA has a 12-1 record at McKale.
“Yeah,” Rubio said, “it’s always nice to come back.”
At this time last year, the Wildcats were on the bubble to make the NCAA tournament. The bubble burst when they lost their last two matches of the season — to the same Cougars, and ASU.
This time around, barring an unfortunate collapse, Arizona can probably count itself as “in,” although matches against UW, Stanford and USC will be no cakewalk.
The Wildcats have an RPI of 27, which is fifth-best in the Pac-12, and typically teams inside the top 40 or 50 are safe bets for the tournament.
“We’ll have some matches we’ll win that maybe we weren’t supposed to, and we’ll have some that we’ll lose that we weren’t supposed to,” Rubio said, “but one match isn’t gonna make our season. Our body of work will hopefully speak for itself.”