UA volleyball hopes for explosive season

By Monty Phan

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Big Bang Theory.

No, this isn't a reference to the proposed origin of the universe, but rather the slogan being used by the 1994 Arizona volleyball team. And if the "bang" matches the "big," this year's opponents are sure to have their hands and arms, and legs, and maybe even faces full.

The Wildcats boast seven players over six-feet tall, some of whom would fare well in dunk contests. Their main focus, however, will be on punishing the opposition with ferocious spikes.

But mere height doesn't win games, and this year's team is the youngest in Arizona history, claiming 11 underclassmen and seven freshmen. Head coach Dave Rubio, however, remains confident.

"The bulk of the team is comprised of sophomores and freshmen," Rubio said yesterday at the team's media day at McKale Center. "But we do have, I think, a good amount of experience with the five girls returning from last year's squad who saw significant playing time. So we're pretty deep in experience in that sense. But, numbers-wise, there are more freshmen and sophomores out there."

Youth aside, this year's sophomores have one up on their younger teammates: namely, a good memory. Last year's squad finished fourth in the Pacific 10 Conference, their highest finish in conference history. With a record of 20-11, they managed to march their way into the Sweet 16 before succumbing to fourth-seeded Brigham Young. In other words, the freshmen have their work cut out for them.

Explained Rubio: "We really expect to do well. Last year was just to see how far we could go and see how well we could do here. This year we expect to do well and we expect to go far. So by virtue of that expectation alone, it's going to be different."

As far as fitting in, the veteran members of the team feel confident that the newcomers will adapt quickly to the level of play required by, as Coach Rubio put it, "the strongest conference in the country ... top to bottom."

"You don't really know they're freshmen, so much," said senior middle blocker Charita Johnson. "They did everything they could this summer to come in and get ready for this season."

Sophomore outside hitter Heidi Bomberger also had praise for the newest members of the team.

Said Bomberger: "I think we're a great team this year and I know that we have five or six of the best freshmen in the country, and lots of experience returning experience at every position."

After a rigorous month of practice, the team is anxious to get rolling this weekend in Stockton, Calif., where they face a tough challenge in No. 7 Pacific and San Jose State. Both matches will be played on Pacific's home floor.

"Two-a-day [practices] were gruesome, and we've just been scrimmaging each other," said Bomberger. "It's time we come together as one and beat up on another team finally."

Johnson agreed: "It's like two-a-days, two-a-days, two-a-days, two-a-days, Prescott, two-a-days after awhile, it gets kind of dull. But now with the game coming up this weekend, everyone's excited and looking forward to it."

With five teams in the preseason top 20 scheduled to face Arizona, including No. 1 Stanford, the Wildcats have their work cut out for them.

"It's going to be a rough year, and a very competitive year," Rubio said. "But it's always like that and you have to be ready to come in and compete every single night."

Senior outside hitter Melissa Ferris shares the same sentiments as her coach.

"I'm excited," Ferris said. "I think it's a great opportunity, just because it is the Pac-10 and we're always going against somebody that's good. There's never a night where we can slack off, it's always tough, and it just makes us better players."

Junior setter Laura Bartsch, however, prefers a more subtle viewpoint.

"I don't really think about [No. 1 Stanford]. I like to think about the match when it comes," she explained.

Nevertheless, the volleyball team is ready to prove last season was no fluke, and going into this weekend, Rubio expressed satisfaction with his players.

"It looks good," he said. "We're all a little bit nervous because it's the first match and we're playing against a quality opponent. The University of Pacific is ranked seventh in the country and they have great traditon. They won the national championships back in '86 and '87. But we feel confident that we're going to perform well and we feel confident that we'll come out on top."

And maybe even show some top 10 opponents the Arizona version of the Big Bang Theory.

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