By Monty Phan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
He's known as "The Wizard" by one of his players, because his knowledge of the game seems to allow him to magically predict his team's destiny. In sports lingo, he could be called a "player's coach," one who is revered by his players while at the same time remaining very accessible to their needs.
He's head volleyball coach David Rubio, and he has done more than transform his team from a Pac-10 doormat into a worthy national competitor, he has shaped the mindset of his team to reflect the mindset of a national competitor, as well.
Commenting on the state of the team before his arrival, Rubio called it "very disjointed."
"There wasn't much of any kind of support system for them," he said. "I felt like there was no pride in the program at all. Whenever you lose that much, you have a tendency to isolate yourself and not really put that much energy and much passion into the game and into your team.
"It was quite a challenge, just to try to get them to understand how to play cohesively and to get some type of chemisty on the team."
"It's 360 degrees (different), it's significantly different from back then," Rubio said. "Back then it wasn't enjoyable for me to coach. (Now,) I enjoy walking into the gym every single day. I enjoy being around the players, I enjoy just about every aspect of what being a part of this team brings. It's a much different environ-ment on the floor now."
Senior middle blocker Rita Johnson, one of two players who remain from former coach Rosie Wegrich's team, offered her own comparisons.
"Dave's more of a motivator," Johnson said. "He's into that team unity thing. Not that Rosie wasn't into it, but it wasn't a big emphasis for her. If you didn't like one another, "Oh, well," whereas Dave is like, 'OK, well you have to have these things in order to do well.' So he's more of a motivator, a big spirit guy."
After coaching Division II Cal State-Bakersfield from 1987-91, where he compiled a record of 120-65, he moved up to Division I by signing on at Arizona in 1992. According to Rubio, the difference between the competition level of the two divisions is night and day.
"There's such a level of expectation and a standard that you have to uphold, if the idea is to compete in the upper part of the Pac-10," Rubio said. "The level of competition is much different Ä (there's) so much more pressure here, and so much more intense here. Every night you've got to go out and play at your best. (In) Division II, that's not really the case."
But whatever division he's coaching in, Rubio's teams seem to be distinctive in one respect: winning. Last season, the Wildcats finished fourth in the Pac-10, their highest finish ever, also becoming the first Arizona squad to defeat both UCLA and Stanford in the same season. As a result, the Wildcats made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, and their coach was honored as the AVCA West Region Coach of the Year. Rubio insists, however, that the effort wasn't his alone.
"Well, a lot of the credit has to do with the whole staff," he said. "There's no way we could've ever accomplished what happened last year by myself.
"So even though I'll be recognized as coach of the year, really it's something that is deserved by every one of the staff members."
As for his players, they all think very highly of "The Wizard."
"He's good about getting to everyone in a different way, in their own personal way," explained sophomore Heidi Bomberger. "He always talks about leaving his office door open. I think he's a fantastic coach."
Freshman outside hitter Carrie Penfield agreed.
"Dave's really close to all of us and he tries to be involved in our lives not only in volleyball but also school-wise," said Penfield.
On the origin of the nickname, Bomberger commented: "Last year, I called him 'The Wizard' because everything that he said, happened Ä always. I mean, I don't know what it was but I started calling him 'The Wizard.' I started telling the freshmen that anything he said was going to happen, would."
Upholding the nickname endowed upon him by his players, Rubio offered his own outlook on the future of the program that has been one of the keys to the Arizona's growing national recognition.
"I think that women's volleyball here in Arizona is growing, dramatically," Rubio said. "It's (a program) that I think the whole Arizona campus can take a lot of pride in. I think if they come out and support us, that they'll be in for a surprise."
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