By Ron Parsons
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Like many college freshmen, Michelle Fanger learned a lot her first year in school Ÿ but back in 1993 she was studying more than just her books.
As part of head volleyball coach Dave Rubio's first recruiting class at Arizona, Fanger spent her first year in college learning not only English and math, but also how to play Division I-caliber volleyball.
Fanger, a 5-foot-11-inch redshirt sophomore, is now the team's starting right-side hitter. She is fourth on the squad in kills, with 127.
"It was a great learning experience," Fanger said of her redshirt year. "There were so many little things, like the basics, that I didn't know. It was a great year to learn and really become confident with the basics of volleyball."
And according to the professor, Fanger passed Volleyball 101 with flying colors.
"At times, Michelle is one of the best attackers on our team," Rubio said. "She can really change the complexion of our offense depending on how she's playing."
Rubio said Fanger, 21, was the type of player Arizona coaches were looking for two years ago when they put together their first recruiting class.
"Michelle was a very explosive and agile athlete when we first saw her," Rubio said. "We felt that with time and training, she was going to be able to play the game at a very high level."
Although Fanger, from San Jose, Calif., lettered in volleyball and basketball in high school and made a slew of all-star teams in both sports, both she and Rubio said she had a lot to learn.
"Her first year was just a training year, to get acclimated to the level of play, to the regimen and intensity of practice," Rubio said.
Fanger said she chose Arizona over Washington State, Santa Clara and San Jose State because she wanted to be part of an up-and-coming program and play in the Pac-10.
Last year, Fanger received extensive playing time in her first season of college volleyball. She played in 23 matches, starting six, and recorded 56 kills while splitting time with junior Heather Flachsbarth.
While her redshirt year was spent learning the basics, Fanger said last season she worked mostly on her confidence.
"You have to know you're a great player on a great team," she said.
That confidence showed in her first-ever college start, a match against defending national champion Stanford last season.
Fanger had six kills, seven digs, two blocks and two aces in the match and displayed the potential Arizona coaches saw when they recruited her.
And seeing that kind of floor time, she said, made her transition from part-time player last year to starter this year less difficult.
"Because I got playing time last year, and started some games, it was a lot easier to not be nervous about starting this year," she said.
Fanger has started 18 of the Wildcats' 19 matches this year at the right-side hitting position.
"Typically at the UA, the right-side player has been a passing, blocking, consistent player," she said.
Fanger has been just that: consistent. She is third on the team in assists with 55, and is fourth in blocks per game (0.62) and kills-per-game (1.98).
Still, Fanger has had several outstanding offensive nights, including a 13 kill, 10 dig effort in a win at California on Sept 30. Rubio said she has improved both her offense and defense.
"She really has come on," Rubio said. "She's more consistent as an attacker. Blocking-wise, she's picking better spots as a blocker."
And Rubio said that Fanger, with two years of eligibility left, has yet to play her best.
"She's got tremendous, unlimited potential. The thing Michelle needs to work on is playing with an aggressive attitude and maintaining that throughout a match, throughout a season," he said.
Fanger is optimistic that Arizona will continue to improve also.
"So far this season, I think we're right on track. We have young players, so we've had minor setbacks," she said. "But when we play as a team, we're unstoppable."
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