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Arizona volleyball: Julia Patterson leads Wildcats to sweep of Eastern Kentucky, GCU in Cactus Classic

Head coach Dave Rubio is concerned about the team’s inconsistency, though

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Arizona volleyball coach Dave Rubio
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Rubio knows full well what is in store for his Arizona Wildcats volleyball team this fall, in the meat grinder that is Pac-12 volleyball.

Rubio, now in his 26th season leading the Wildcats, was curt in his assessment of how his team played in its two matches at Friday’s Cactus Classic.

Rubio, sporting a stubble-length black and grey beard that infringed upon his dark sports coat at the team’s postgame press conference, used cautious optimism to describe this year’s team.

His words cut through the pair of sweeps turned in against overmatched non-conference foes, in Eastern Kentucky and Grand Canyon University.

They ushered in the harsh reality that Rubio and company face, with a roster with more freshmen (8) than seniors (3) on its roster.

“I need six months, not three weeks,” Rubio said of his team’s progress ahead of the looming conference season. “Every opportunity that we can take to get a little bit of maturity and some experience is going to help this team.”

Rubio’s squad entered Friday’s matinee against the Colonels fresh off a 2-1 performance at a nonconference tournament in Nashville last weekend, which knocked them from 24th in the weekly polls to the dreaded “others receiving votes” category.

They battled through early nerves in both of their matches Friday, thanks in part to stellar performances turned in by the front line of Tyler Spriggs, Elizabeth Shelton, Devyn Cross and Paige Whipple, who smashed home dozens of kills.

There was also the calm demeanor of sophomore Julia Patterson, who had 75 assists and 15 digs for Rubio and company.

Patterson mirrored her coach’s comments on the team’s hit-or-miss play Friday, but believes things are looking up for the squad.

“I think from the first match to the second that we definitely improved,” Patterson said. “I think we are still trying to figure out when we’re ahead in games how to keep our lead and not make so many errors. So I think that got better throughout the day, and is something that comes with trying to get used to the whole playing aspect for us.”

Rubio commended his team’s outstanding athleticism and work ethic during the doubleheader.

He remains upbeat that the team will be in fine form once they jell as a unit and gain confidence playing together.

“The thing is, we’re so young that we tend to make errors,” Rubio said. “and that’s kind of who we are right now, we’re just not that efficient. And as soon as we control those things, which I think is going to take some time, we’ll be pretty good.”

Danger lurking

Rubio’s squad faces another pesky team in Saturday’s tournament finale, when they take the court at 1 p.m. against Radford.

Rubio is weary of the Highlanders’ combination of size and experience, but thinks his team has what it takes to compete.

“Tomorrow’s match will be against kids with good size, and that have experience,” Rubio said. “Maybe they’re not as athletic as we are, but they’ve got a lot of experience and that counts for a lot in our sport.”

The Wildcats will take to the Sunshine State for a doubleheader against Florida A&M and 15th-ranked Florida State next weekend.

Rubio sees commonality between his squad and the Seminoles, and says he’s excited to see how his team will fare in a tough road environment.

“I haven’t really had a chance to look, but Florida State’s young like we are,” Rubio said. “They’re young and athletic like we are. We’re probably very similar, so the matchup there I think will be similar for sure.”

Follow Christopher Boan on Twitter at @cgboan