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Arizona volleyball report card: midseason grades

KEVIN KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
The road for head coach Dave Rubio has been anything but easy following last year's trip to the Final Four. The Wildcats are currently ranked No. 16 after starting the season No. 6.
By Brian Penso
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday October 23, 2002

After a Final Four appearance last season, it would seem likely that the Arizona volleyball team would receive an A. However, this season, the Wildcats have not been playing up to the same level as last year's group. The Wildcats (10-7 overall, 5-4 Pacific 10 Conference) began the season No. 6 but have dropped down 10 spots since opening day.

Even though it has dropped in the rankings, Arizona has shown signs that it's close to regaining the spark that took the team to the school's first Final Four last season.

Coach: Rubio and associate head coach Charita Johnson faced a tough challenge entering this season. After coming off a year that saw the Wildcats reach their first Final Four, Rubio and Johnson have had to deal with replacing Dana Burkholder and Jill Talbot, who were both All-Americans last season. With that being a big enough challenge, Rubio has had to try to come up with a formula to keep Arizona on top with 11 underclassmen, including four freshmen. To make matters worse, senior Stefani Saragosa quit the team due to an injury. Through all of those trials and tribulations, Rubio has managed to keep Arizona right in the thick of the Pac-10 race, only two games behind second-place Stanford.

Setter: Last season, Arizona was led by two-time All-American Burkholder, who left the Arizona program as the most prolific setter in UA history. Senior Laurie Gardner, a transfer from Indiana, has had big shoes to fill this season. Gardner has had to adjust to UA's offense, but she has continued to improve as the season has progressed. Once Gardner becomes accustomed to the offense, the Wildcats will be able to open up their attack and become more diverse. Gardner has done a good job filling the shoes of Burkholder and she is beginning to come into her own.

Outside hitters: Freshman Kim Glass has been spectacular this year as she leads the team with 305 kills. The young freshman has been named Pac-10 Player of the Week twice this season and she is already second on the all-time list for freshman kills in their first season. Senior Lisa Rutledge has continued her consistent play and Shannon Torregrosa has become more involved in the offense as of late. Arizona also has great depth at this position as freshman Jennifer Abernathy has showed that she is a fearless attacker. When Rutledge, Glass and Torregrosa are clicking, the Wildcats have one of the most prolific outside attacks in the Pac-10.

Middle Blocker: This is the hardest position to grade due to the loss of senior Stefani Saragosa, who quit the team due to injury. Freshman Bre Ladd and redshirt freshman Angie Ayers have been slated as the team's starting middle blockers. Sophomore Jolene Killough has played tough at the net and Torregrosa has also played some time in the middle this season. Defensively, Ayers and Ladd have been a force at the net, but they have lacked offensive consistency. The Wildcats are third in the Pac-10 in blocks per game, but Rubio said that the key to UA's success lies in the offensive balance that the middles add to the Arizona offensive attack. Defensively, they deserve an A, but through the first half of the season, the middle offensive production has been lacking.

Defensive specialist/Libero: If this category was split up in two categories defensive and passing it would receive an A- and C+, respectively. But since it's not, a B- is the right grade. Senior Rachel Williams and sophomore Kelli Mulvaney have platooned at the position and both have been as solid as a rock. However, they have struggled passing the ball to setter Gardner, who sets up the offensive attack. Arizona won't be able to become a balanced offense until Mulvaney and Williams improve their passing, which has improved over the past two weeks. Their passing has been average but their defensive intensity and success in the back row has been superb.

Overall Grade: B


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