By Lindsey Frazier
CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
The Arizona volleyball team psyches itself up before a match last season at McKale Center. The No. 16 Wildcats open their 2004 schedule tonight on the road against San Diego State University before heading to Hawaii this weekend, then returning home Sept. 10.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 1, 2004
Although the Arizona volleyball team is on the road for today's season opener against San Diego State University, it will be a homecoming of sorts for many of the Wildcats - nine of the 17 Arizona athletes hail from California.
Arizona's veteran lineup hopes to take advantage of the rookie SDSU starters at 7 p.m. at San Diego State's Peterson Gym.
The Wildcats return all six starters and the libero from their 2003 team, while the Aztecs bring back one starter and three letterwinners from last season.
"San Diego State is probably the most nerve-racking (game) because you are playing the first match of the year on the road," said UA head coach Dave Rubio. "They are in the rebuilding process. They beat us last year here and I thought we overlooked them. I thought they were a pretty good team last year and I think that we should have a good match with them (this year)."
History sides with the Aztecs, who are 20-7-1 all-time against the Wildcats, including a 3-1 upset at McKale Center in their last meeting, on Sept. 4, 2003.
Arizona is also without a healthy team, as 10 of the 17 athletes on its roster are injured - including two-time All-American and offensive powerhouse Kim Glass.
"Obviously, we want to play well and I'd like to play with a healthy team; I hope we get one of the two," said Rubio. "I hope we get a healthy team and as a result of that we play well. It'd be nice to get a few wins under our belt. We take it, like the cliché, one match at a time. Of course we want to win every night, but we just want to play well and be healthy."
"It's always hard the first couple of games because you haven't been in the situation yet," said senior libero Cassidy Crum. "But I think we've been practicing really hard and playing really well together, so I think come game time, it will be just like practice. Our expectations are to win."
The starting setter position will go to sophomore Stephanie Butkus, who will compete for playing time throughout the season with freshman Amy Dyck.
"I think that right now Stephanie is clearly the one that has the experience and has shown the consistency," Rubio said. "Whereas Amy, again being a freshman, (is adjusting to) a new technique and trying to hang on to every practice. With Amy being hurt and still being new to the system, I think Stephanie is the one that is clearly ahead."
As the Wildcats continue to overcome injury, they will try to balance the leadership of the upperclassmen with the energy of the freshmen.
"I think we have very good, consistent leadership from all the classes," said Rubio. "The seniors, the juniors, the sophomores - the freshmen are bright-eyed and a little confused at times. I think once we start we'll be pretty good. I've been getting on them a lot about practicing and not being satisfied - they shouldn't be satisfied. But I think once we tee it up, I think the players should feel pretty good about what's going on."
Despite early obstacles, team morale remains unshaken.
"It's good to go out there and give some freshmen some experience in an actual game setting," said junior middle blocker Bre Ladd. "We're so much older this year, so pretty much everyone that is going to be starting has already played. I think that's important. I think we'll feel a lot better once we have everybody back."
The Wildcats are ranked 17th in the USA Today/College Sports Television preseason poll and are the only team to get the nod that was not listed in the 2003 poll.
The team will continue its road trip this weekend as it travels to Hawaii for the Rainbow Wahine Classic Friday to face off against Eastern Washington, San Diego and No. 13 Hawaii.