Rubio’s 23rd UA volleyball team little changed from 2013

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                </div>  Dave Rubio may be putting together one of the better volleyball teams in recent years at University of Arizona. And, as if on cue, the Pac-12 Conference is going to […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Dave Rubio may be putting together one of the better volleyball teams in recent years at University of Arizona. And, as if on cuethe Pac-12 Conference is going to give his program increased exposure to an audience of potential recruits.

The Wildcats are scheduled to have 16 of their matches televised on the Pac-12 Networks, more than any season in the past.

Rubio, who is entering his 23rd season as the Cats’ head coach, lost just one starter and two players overall from last year’s roster that earned its stripes as one of the top defensive teams in the conference, finishing first in digs and second in opponent hitting percentage.

Unfortunately, the starter that graduated was the school’s all-time leader in single-season and career digs. Candace Nicholson closed out her career at Arizona with 1,642 digs and the 5’8″ libero from California left behind the distinction of being the only player in program  history to record 500 digs in a single season.

But among those returning are an All-Pac 12 honoree and a member of the Pac-12 All Freshman team.  In addition to the All Pac 12 selection, Madi Kingdon was also named AVCA All-Region and the 6’1″  senior outside hitter is coming off a season in which she accumulated 508 kills, the sixth-most for a single season in school history.  She led the conference in points and ranked third in kills and fourth in service aces for the year.

Penina Snuka closed out her freshman year as the Pac-12 leader in double-doubles (19) – which was second in the nation among freshmen – and finished sixth in the conference in assists with 1,196, which works out to a little better than 10 per game.

Despite being one of the youngest players on the team in just her first year of college ball, the 5’6″ setter was the only one on the team that played in all 119 sets.  And she combined with Kingdon as the only players to start all 34 matches.

Both players are local products.  Kingdon led Sunnyslope High School to three 4A state titles and was named the Arizona Republic’s Player of the Year as a senior.  Snuka graduated from high school in Hawaii, but spent her first three years at Gilbert High School and led the Tigers to a state title in her junior year.  She comes from a family of wrestlers that includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the well-known professional wrestler who also became popular as a movie actor.

Kingdon played a major role in the program’s biggest achievement last year when the Cats upset USC when the Trojans were the No. 1-ranked team in the country.  That was the first time in 20 years that a UofA volleyball team toppled the nation’s top team – and the first time in school history that it was done in a sweep.  Kingdon had a match-high 20 kills that day in late October and was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.

The two teams will meet just once this season since Arizona plays every Pac-12 school twice except for the Trojans and UCLA, who they’ll meet just once.

But the match that is undoubtedly circled on the calendar is the one they play Sept. 24.  Not only is it against Arizona State and the first meeting on the schedule that is part of the Territorial Cup rivalry – but it is also the first match of the season that will be shown on the Pac-12 Networks.  The Cats open their conference play with that match, which will be played in Tucson.

Arizona will begin the non-conference part of the schedule on the road when the team travels to Wisconsin to participate in the Green Bay Tournament, the first time the Cats have opened on the road since 2011.  Last season, the non-conference schedule was good to them as they opened the season 10-2, posting the most non-conference wins in three years.

Their 21-13 overall record (10-10 Pac-12) was good enough to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the 25th time a UofA team has earned a berth in the tourney.

And, if the 2014 squad lives up to its promise, there should be another post-season appearance ahead in December.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)