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AZ Desert Swarm Spam Folder: Your questions, answered

Y’all need to start asking more ...

arizona-wildcats-athletics-football-womens-basketball-responses-queries-pac12-2023-2024 Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The latest AZ Desert Swarm Spam Folder is light on queries—come on, readers, do you really not have burning questions you’ve been longing to get answers to?—but long on responses.

Here are the latest submissions that we felt were worthy of replying to:

Is Arizona trying to compete at the highest level of college football, or simply trying to field a team and generate some revenues and perhaps not suck?

There’s a big difference between trying to compete at the highest level and actually being capable. I think Arizona wants to be among the upper echelon in football, going for Pac-12 titles and also trying to be in the national championship mix, but that’s not a realistic goal for most schools beyond a once-in-a-generation kind of season.

Because of the way college football is, there’s really only 10-15 programs each year that have a legitimate chance to win the national title. And it’s probably not even that many. Conference titles are a different story, but there still are only 2-4 in each league that have a shot to win those on an annual basis, while everyone else has to hope it can catch lightning in a bottle and have a breakout year.

That was the case for the UA in 1998 and 2014. But those seasons also overinflated expectations, and led to Dick Tomey and Rich Rodriguez getting pushed out not long after when they couldn’t produce those results every season.

As much as the fan base would love to see the Wildcats regularly compete for titles, expecting that is foolish. You can still be a truly successful football program without winning 10-plus games every year and either playing in the Rose Bowl or one New Year’s Eve.

I’ve long felt that the real goal for the program should be to win between 7-9 games per season, with the occasional outlier year above or below that. That means bowl games most Decembers, and regular relevancy. Look at a program like Iowa, which since 2001 has averaged 8.3 wins with six seasons of 10 or more wins and four seasons of six or fewer wins; everything else was in the 7-9 range.

What are reasonable volleyball expectations under the new coach? It looks like she has recruited well.

Rita Stubbs has done a very good job of upgrading the talent. It’s worth noting that at least two of her top transfers were either committed to or rumored to be looking at Arizona before former head coach Dave Rubio retired, but the fact remains that she was able to keep them onboard even after the coaching change.

One thing to keep in mind is that Stubbs was heavily involved in recruiting under Rubio. She loves to recruit, and she plans to keep a lot of the relationship-building part of recruiting as her responsibility. She’s also effective at it, as we saw when Arizona secured the verbal commitment of Carlie Cisneros, Prep Volleyball’s No. 1 recruit in the 2024 class. While both Cisneros and her family were excited about the prospect of her playing for Rubio, they were also operating with the understanding that she would likely play at least part of her career for Stubbs.

There are still some questions about next year’s squad, though. There are two areas of weakness, one being more important than the other. The big concern is the setting. Arizona has two unproven setters on the roster in sophomores Ana Heath and Kasen Rosenthal. They also still list junior Ava Tortorello as a setter, but Tortorello only played defensive specialist/libero during spring tournaments and Stubbs said in May that she would not be setting this season.

Emery Herman, who started at setter for three years, transferred to Colorado State in the offseason. While Herman was still working to get her setting at the same level as the rest of her game, she had valuable experience and had consistently won the job over both Tortorello and Heath. When you think of the setter as the equivalent of the quarterback, it becomes apparent why experience at the position is so vital. The setter is responsible for putting the offensive players in position to be successful.

People who have watched the team on a regular basis think Heath was one of the hardest workers on the team last season. It’s unclear how Rosenthal, who transferred from UConn this offseason, will do against Pac-12 competition.

The other question is at middle blocker. Arizona has three MB on the team in juniors Alayna Johnson and Nicole Briggs and freshman Journey Tucker. Losing Zyonna Fellows to exhausted eligibility after last season is a big hit. Fellows had a huge fifth year in college as both a blocker and an offensive threat. Arizona will miss her.

Johnson won the second starting MB position last year behind Fellows. She’s now the most experienced MB on the team. She is probably a better offensive player than a blocker at this point, but she certainly has shown she can be a contributor in the Pac-12. Briggs got some time as a starter her freshman year, but classmate Johnson soon overtook her. This year, Arizona needs both because the only other option is freshman Tucker.

In a pinch, the Wildcats could use Sofia Maldonado Diaz in the position; she was a MB in the Mexican national program before coming to college. However, if Stubbs is having to use her 6-foot pin as a MB, something has likely gone wrong for the team during the season. On the upside, though, both Stubbs and assistant coach Deitre Collins-Parker were MB in their playing careers, with Collins-Parker being on the U.S. Olympic team.

The team also needs to shore up its defense and passing, which assistant coach and former libero Ryan Windisch should be able to help with. Passing was an issue for the team last season and they lost their 4-year starting libero to transfer. Can Oregon transfer Becca Morse step in and lift the team in that area?

Arizona’s hitters will likely need to be very good at scoring out of system due to the inexperience at setter and questions about passing. The Wildcats certainly have the arms to do that, especially with the addition of USC transfer Jordan Wilson. Considering their strengths at the pins and possible issues with setting and passing, the team will have inconsistencies this season. They should be competitive, though.

Stubbs is aiming for a top-half finish in the Pac-12 and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. That’s not unreasonable, but it’s in no way automatic. The Wildcats should finish in the middle third, but they could very well finish in 7 th or 8 th instead of 5 th or 6 th . That would put them outside the tournament in all likelihood, but it would be an improvement over last year when the team was 10th.

Arizona last finished in the top half of the conference in 2020-21, but it missed the tournament because it was reduced to 48 teams that year due to the pandemic. The Wildcats’ last tournament appearance came in 2018-19 when they finished fifth in the Pac-12.

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