UA volleyball may be this year’s sleeper in the Pac-12

<div class="at-above-post addthis_tool" data-url=""></div>Dave Rubio, who is entering his 22nd year as University of Arizona head volleyball coach, might just have a sleeper on his hands this season. And that’s a good thing […]<!-- AddThis Advanced Settings above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Advanced Settings generic via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons above via filter on get_the_excerpt --><!-- AddThis Share Buttons below via filter on get_the_excerpt --><div class="at-below-post addthis_tool" data-url=""></div><!-- AddThis Share Buttons generic via filter on get_the_excerpt -->

Dave Rubio, who is entering his 22nd year as University of Arizona head volleyball coach, might just have a sleeper on his hands this season.

And that’s a good thing because it’s always an advantage to be under-estimated.

His Wildcats team was picked in the coaches’ poll to finish eighth in the Pac-12 this season.  But a team that finished 16-15 last year will return six starters and 10 letterwinners, and has added some seasoned talent with a couple of transfers and a new assistant coach that was a head coach in a major-college program.

Last year the Wildcats squad was one of the youngest in the country.  Now, the young ‘uns have grown up and move into the 2013 season with both experience and leadership from a group of upperclassmen.

Candace Nicholson enters the new season, which begins Aug. 30, as the team’s only four-year senior and sitting at No. 8 on the program’s all-time list for digs.  She has 1,300 so far and could become the school’s leader with a productive senior campaign.

Add to that a trio of juniors with both talent and experience.

The one to watch this season will be a local player from Sunnyslope High School, Madi Kingdon.  The 6’1″ outside hitter recorded 443 kills, 319 digs, and 44 blocks last season to earn All-Pac-12 honorable-mention honors.  She was named to the Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Team, the first time the conference has selected players for the honor.

She will be joined by two other juniors who will be key players this season, Ronni Lewis and Saquillah Torres.  Lewis played in every set last season, beginning as a defensive specialist and moving to the libero position during the latter part of the season.   Torres, another 6’1″ outside hitter, totaled 156 kills on the season and had four matches of double-digit kills.

And a pair of sophomores, Halli Amaro and Olivia Magill, are coming off impressive freshman starts.  Amaro played all 113 sets, contributed 254 kills, and finished second on the team with 100 blocks – which was right behind Magill, who led the team with 104 blocks.

But some additional depth was added with the import of a couple of transfers this season.  Emily Moss will join the squad for her sophomore season, coming in from Seattle University.  But her experience in Seattle was limited to practice time since she redshirted her freshman season.

However, the addition of Jane Croson brings experience in a major-college program.  Croson is a 5’11” outside hitter that played her first two years at the University of Hawaii, where she was a member of the All-Conference team both years.  She played in 23 matches last season, starting in all but one, and was named to the All-Big West First Team.  Her 319 kills ranked fifth in the Big West Conference.  As a freshman, she played in all 33 matches.

Rubio has also added some firepower to his coaching staff, bringing in Charita Stubbs, the former head coach at North Carolina State who also played professionally .  Stubbs played her college ball at Arizona (as Clarita Johnson), where she became the first player in school history to record 300 kills, 300 digs, and 100 blocks in one season.

She has been working with a team that, based on last year’s performance, is capable of playing with the best.

Despite just getting over the .500 hump last year, this was a team that swept UCLA when it was the No. 5-ranked team in the country, and knocked off rival Arizona State, which was riding a five-game win steak and a 11-2 record at the time.  Kingdon set the pace in that one, recording 20 kills and 11 digs, her fifth double-double of the young season.

So if you put all this together, it’s not difficult to see why Arizona’s stock might be really undervalued going into the 2013 season.

There’s little question that Stanford is a correct pick to win a second-straight conference title.  The Cardinal collected 20 first-place votes and the No. 2 pick, USC, managed just two.

But when you get down into the middle of the pack, it’s anybody’s game.  And Arizona could sneak up on a lot of teams.

That’s why it’s nice to be a sleeper.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)