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Zyonna Fellows is riding high on confidence in her fifth year with Arizona volleyball

arizona-wildcats-volleyball-zyonna-fellows-confidence-fifth-year-offense Photo by Mike Mattina / Arizona Athletics

Confidence is the word everyone uses when they refer to fifth-year senior Zyonna Fellows these days. Seeing her on the volleyball court proves it, but so does just sitting and talking to her. A player who spent her first four years at Arizona as a woman of few words was open and talkative on Wednesday as she discussed her final year of college volleyball.

“As a fifth-year, I kind of feel like I have nothing to lose,” Fellows said. “This is my last year, leave it all out there. So my confidence definitely went up.”

It didn’t just happen this fall, though. It’s something that she has felt building since the team regrouped for spring tournaments. It’s the first spring development season the team has had since the spring of 2019 as she was heading into her sophomore year. Now heading into her super senior season, she had just the second development season of her career.

“During spring when we were training, I definitely saw myself become a better player than I was even in November,” Fellows said. “And so after that, I just was like, ‘I just gotta keep pushing.’ I have all this confidence. I just gotta play like that.”

“Like that” will be huge if Fellows’ play during the Red-Blue scrimmage is any indication. She led the match with 18 kills and seven blocks that day. While the blocks were not a shock, the offensive output was not typical of Fellows. The 6-foot-4 middle blocker has only had double-digit kills once in her career and that was two years ago. Last season, she averaged less than a kill per set and hit .257.

“I was mainly a blocker,” Fellows said. “I like blocking more. But now that I have the confidence that I can score it, that’s helped me come up a lot.”

Part of that confidence has come from the opportunity to work with a variety of setters. With a full development season, Fellows has been able to get time on the court with junior Emery Herman, sophomore Ava Tortorello, and freshman Ana Heath, who enrolled a semester early. While Arizona head coach Dave Rubio said that they are still working on set location with all three of the setters, Fellows feels that they have already helped her grow.

“Honestly, just the constant reps that we were getting during the offseason really helped me and the versatility of the setters,” she said. “So, working with each different setter, changing up how I hit, the directions I hit, has really helped me bring more energy into my offense.”

Offense isn’t the only thing Fellows is bringing to the Wildcats in her final season. Her leadership will also help them reach the goals they’ve set for themselves.

“Z is kind of the heart and soul of our team,” Rubio said. “So even though Kamaile (Hiapo) is clearly the vocal and verbal part and the passionate part, I think Zyonna has established herself as the person I think the players really listen to when she speaks. And oftentimes when she speaks, it’s more of a really positive cheerleading type of tone. ‘Hey, that’s a great play! Good energy!’ Encouraging players with great enthusiasm. But when she kind of puts her foot down and says, ‘We need to dial it in and really play focused!’ I think when she speaks like that, the players really don’t tune her out.”

Fellows uses that encouragement not only to pump up her teammates. It’s also one of the ways she has improved her own game.

“After I score, cheering myself on mentally, that’s really helped me a lot,” she said.

With the relative lack of experience at the other middle blocker position, Fellows’ improvement and encouragement will be important this season. She also wants it to have an impact once she’s gone.

Next season, current sophomores Alayna Johnson and Nicole Briggs will be stepping into the starting middle positions. One reason Rubio wanted an experienced middle on this year’s team was to help prepare those two for their time. Fellows has shown herself to be up to the task.

“Last year, I was mainly trying to focus on breaking them out of their shells,” she said. “I knew that they were locked in their shell. They were young. And I knew that as a player, when you have your coaches telling you a lot of different things, it can be overwhelming. So, just having a teammate that’s just there, that’s easily talking to you, it makes it a lot better...I want them to be better than me when I do leave.”

Leaving is for another day, though. On Friday morning, Fellows and her teammates will step on the floor to start her final regular season.

“This final year, I want us to make it as far as we possibly can, as far as our talents will lead us,” Fellows said. “Because we have so much talent on our team, so much potential. Even during open gyms, I was just like this is a whole different team. And so I just hope that when the season comes along, we can keep this consistency and keep playing how we’ve been playing.”


Long Island Sharks @ Arizona Wildcats

When and where: The match tips off at 10 a.m. MST on Friday, Aug. 26 in McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Viewing information: All matches featuring Arizona at the Cactus Classic will be on Arizona Live Stream. Matches that don’t include the Wildcats can be viewed on Flo Sports.

Live Stats: Live stats are available at Arizona Live Stats.

Last year: Arizona finished 17-16 overall last season and 8-12 in Pac-12 play. The Wildcats advanced to the second round of the NIVC before falling to eventual champion UNLV.

LIU went 13-14 overall and finished 10-4 in the NEC.

New Mexico State Aggies @ Arizona Wildcats

When and where: Arizona’s second match of the day will tip off on Friday at 6:30 p.m. in McKale Center.

Viewing information: All matches featuring Arizona at the Cactus Classic will be on Arizona Live Stream. Matches that don’t include the Wildcats can be viewed on Flo Sports.

Live stats: Live stats are available at Arizona Live Stats.

Last year: Arizona swept NMSU in two matches last season. The two first met on Aug. 27, 2021 in McKale Center when the Wildcats won 3-0. The Aggies made it close in Las Cruces, NM on Sept. 3, 2021 when they lost to Arizona in a 3-2 contest.

The Wildcats are 18-1 against the Aggies in their history, losing the only regular-season match on Sept. 8, 2018. However, NMSU also defeated Arizona in an exhibition before the season in the spring of 2021.

NMSU finished 19-10 overall and 10-4 in the WAC last season. The Aggies also took part in the NIVC tournament. They lost to eventual champion UNLV in the opening round.

Alabama State Hornets @ Arizona Wildcats

When and where: Arizona’s final match of the weekend starts at 2 p.m. MST on Saturday, Aug. 27 in McKale Center.

Viewing information: All matches featuring Arizona at the Cactus Classic will be on Arizona Live Stream. Matches that don’t include the Wildcats can be viewed on Flo Sports.

Live stats: Live stats are available at Arizona Live Stats.

Last year: The Hornets finished 16-17 overall last season and 12-4 in the SWAC. They are projected to finish third in the conference this season.