Non-scholarship volleyballers work for good of team
The more, the merrier.
That could be the motto for the No. 8 Arizona volleyball team, which comprises a program-high 19 players.
Five newcomers to the squad are also walk-ons - freshman libero Brittany Leonard, sophomore transfer Brittany Esser, junior transfer Kim Nash, and Canyon del Oro High School graduates Audrey Bockerstette and Marti Larriva.
"It was interesting how it all evolved," said Arizona head coach Dave Rubio.
Arizona assistant coach Steve Walker is also the coach of Club Cactus, a local club volleyball team, and introduced Rubio to Bockerstette and Larriva.
"I saw Audrey and Marti, and both of them, I thought, would be nice additions for us," Rubio said.
The number of walk-ons continued to grow as he searched for a new libero.
"Brittany Leonard was someone that was being recruited heavily by several schools as a scholarship player," Rubio said. "We didn't have one to give her, but we promised her one the next year. She was receptive to that."
Libero Kim Nash and setter Brittany Esser transferred from Arizona Western and Tulane, respectively, to round out the walk-on group.
Rubio acknowledged that having a large roster and a number of walk-ons can be challenging.
"I think it's difficult for them because not everyone's playing, but they've handled it very well," he said. "It's been a positive experience for us. I think it's good for the team."
Bockerstette said that the adjustment from high school volleyball - in which she played daily - to the collegiate game - in which she has yet to play - has been hard.
"It's tough coming from high school, but I just work every day and I'm improving a lot," she said. "So I'm not really worrying about it right now because I know that I am a freshman and am a walk-on. It just comes with that, and I knew what to expect so I'm not that upset about it."
Larriva said that walk-ons are held to the same expectations as the starters.
"You still have to go to all the practices and do all the work for the amount of time that it takes to be an athlete, but you don't get the rewards," Larriva said. "It's kind of stressful.
"When I first decided to walk on, I was hoping maybe to transfer later after I had trained for a year, but now that I'm here, I just want to stay at the U of A and finish my education."
Esser walked away from a starting spot at Tulane to play for a more competitive team in the Wildcats.
"I would rather be part of a better team and get better than start at a school that wasn't as good," she said.
Esser added that there is no disparity among the different members of the team.
"Everyone is equal on the team, everyone from the captains to the walk-ons to those who never even dress out," she said. "Everyone's equal. We're all teammates."
Senior middle blocker Bre Ladd said she realizes the sacrifices walk-ons must make for the rest of the team.
"I think it takes a really special type of person that can come in and still find gratification in the fact that many might not dress, many might not get any playing time," she said. "But those are the best kind of teammates to have, (who) can still work so hard to make the rest of their team better.
"We're really fortunate, because every girl works just as hard as every other girl whether you're on scholarship or you're not on scholarship," she said. "All the teams that struggle are teams that don't have a good second string or good teammates pushing them to be better."