Tall talent on the way to help UA volleyball rebound

The Wildcats volleyball program may have found some help to lift it from its four-year slumber.  A couple of new recruits could have an immediate impact.

Head coach Dave Rubio, who just completed his 18th season directing the University of Arizona volleyball program, has signed two players to national letters-of-intent that should be able to make a significant contribution next season, he says.

Rubio is trying to return the program to prominence.  The Cats tied for first place in the Pac-10 in 2000 with a 16-2 conference mark and then, in 2005, the team went 14-4 and finished in second place.

Since then, no team has done better than seventh place, which is where this year’s squad (8-10) ended up.  The 2008 team had an almost identical fate, finishing 6-12 for another seventh-place finish.

But Rubio feels he has found a couple of impact players in junior college transfer, Marketa Hanzlova, and Tarryn Luafalemana from Carson High School in California.

Rubio says Luafalemana, a 6-2 middle blocker, will have the opportunity to “step in and play right away.”  And Hanzlova, a 6-1 outside hitter from North Idaho College, will add some welcome depth to the line-up.  “Marketa is another player who should help us immediately,” he notes.

Luafalemana ran up 151 kills, 91 digs, and 60 blocks during her senior year, helping her high school team to a 21-9 record.  Hanzlova (in photo), a two-time NJCAA All-American who is originally from the Czech Republic, left the JUCO game ranked 25th in the nation with 3.28 kills per set.  She led North Idaho with 357 kills and 37 aces as a sophomore and led the school to the conference co-championship this year.

They will join Maddie Lozano, who committed to play for UofA during the fall signing period.  Lozano is a middle blocker out of Oakmont High School in California who recorded 72 blocks in 67 matches as a senior, and added 129 kills.

The Cats relied heavily this season on Tiffany Owens, who led the team with 396 kills for a kill-per-set ratio of 3.74.  She will return next year to provide a good chunk of the offense, as well as senior leadership.

This season, the team was ranked No. 19 and made it to its first NCAA Tournament in four years, but were knocked out in the first round by unranked Texas A&M.

Next season’s work begins now.  And Rubio hopes he now has the tools he needs to begin the building project.

(Photo credit: North Idaho College/Michelle Bishop)