By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Depth, experience could push UA to next level
The 2004 Arizona volleyball team is older and wiser and ready to prove it.
With veteran experience and a deeper bench, the team was picked to finish 17th nationally by the USA Today/College Sports Television poll, but just sixth in the Pacific 10 Conference.
"The fact that we're ranked sixth in the conference is not really something we're paying much attention to," said head coach Dave Rubio. "We know there's six legitimate teams in our conference and we're one of them. So we'll just see how the cards fall when it's all said and done in the end of November."
With seven returning starters and five incoming freshmen, Rubio believes his Wildcats might have the balance to return to the NCAA tournament for the ninth consecutive year.
"For two years, we didn't have a (senior class) and I think one of our struggles has been that we haven't had one during that time," Rubio said. "Kelli (Mulvany), Cassidy (Crum) and Jolene (Killough) have been just terrific and (have) great leadership.
"Seniors just know how to practice everyday. (They) know what's on the line and don't let things get in the way of being successful. When you're young those things tend to pop up a little bit more."
"Right now, we have some depth as a luxury, which we haven't had the last few years. I think that the bench can be the coaches' best friend; in case someone is having an off night or an off practice, we can have someone sub in for them," Rubio said.
Senior Stephanie Butkus worked hard in the off season to defend the starting setter role she occupied for part of last season, which should be challenged by freshman Amy Dyck.
"(Stephanie has) been working really hard," said junior and two-time All-American Kim Glass. "When we started practice, we were like 'Who is that?' She is a totally different person on the court. It's good to see someone develop that drastically."
The road to proving their critics wrong won't be easy, and the Wildcats will have their work cut out for them when they face eight nationally ranked teams - five from the nation's most difficult conference, the Pac-10.
After winning back-to-back national titles, No. 1 USC is guaranteed to be a formidable opponent. UCLA, Stanford, Washington and California are all also ranked in the top ten nationally.
Regardless of a difficult schedule and the memory of last year's disappointing 17-15 mark, confidence is running high for the Wildcats.
"Our expectations are to win a national championship," said junior middle blocker Bre Ladd of her team's hopes to make the NCAA Championships in Southern California, "but we have to take it one day at a time and get a little bit better throughout the year to be in Long Beach in November."
Ladd's sentiments were echoed by many of her teammates.
"Obviously we had a really bad season last year," Glass added. "It was kind of a roller coaster. I think we've all grown a lot from last year. We are really expecting good things this year. We've worked way too hard to expect anything less and it's really exciting."