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Arizona volleyball: Wildcats swept by UCLA in fourth straight loss

Another long night for Coach Dave Rubio and company

Photo via @ArizonaVBall on Twitter

It was another long night in what’s fast become a season of head-scratchers for longtime Arizona volleyball coach Dave Rubio on Wednesday.

Rubio, whose emotions ranged from his oft-calm and cool demeanor to a few fiery exchanges with players and match officials, was left speechless by his team’s performance.

The hometown Wildcats were hammered in straight sets (15-25, 17-25 and 20-25) by the UCLA Bruins, who entered Wednesday’s match ranked 13th in the latest AVCA poll.

Rubio’s team struggled from the opening tip in front of an announced crowd of 1,139 against an aggressive Bruins squad hungry to avenge three straight losses to the Wildcats, including a straight-set sweep in Tucson last November.

The Bruins, led by senior outside hitter Reily Buechler, bullied the Wildcats all night long, with Buechler collecting 15 kills and four digs alone.

Rubio commended the Bruins for capitalizing on a myriad of mistakes made by a Wildcats squad he’s described all year as having equal parts talent and glaring inexperience.

“Well there’s lots to learn,” he said. “We didn’t play particularly well. We had a real issue with our first contact abilities then it’s hard to overcome. I felt like on the other phases of the game that we were fine.”

The Wildcats’ latest loss puts them at 1-4 in conference play, having lost 12 of their 16 sets in those matches.

The team’s front line of Kendra Dahlke, Paige Whipple and Candice Denny shined at times on Wednesday, with 22 kills and 14 digs between them.

The trio was plagued by errors, however, with 11 of them in a match where the hometown team committed 14 errors combined.

Dahlke knows the tall task his players face in playing in the meat grinder that is the Pac-12, which had seven teams ranked in the AVCA’s latest Top-25 rankings.

“I think our team can really learn from it, just in how we can learn from every match,” Dahlke said. “So I just think from a talent standpoint it will give us an idea of what we can expect from now on.”

Looking forward

The Wildcats will look to get back on the right track on Friday, when the 15th-ranked USC Trojans come to McKale for a 7 p.m. match.

Rubio believes the task for the rest of the year centers around getting his cast of inexperienced players more time on the floor, so they can grow in all facets of the game.

“The way this season is shaping up, my hope is that the players who are now in the starting spots can kind of separate themselves as the year moves forward,” Rubio said.

The veteran coach wants his team to use its coming games against powerhouse teams (USC, Utah and Colorado) to continue their maturation as a team.

“The competition is so important for us,” Rubio said. “Whether we win or lose, with this group it’s not as important about that. The skills will follow the brain, so right now the thing we really want to develop more than anything is how good we are mentally.”

Freshman Paige Whipple touched on a similar narrative as Rubio, commending the team for its poise against a tough opponent.

“I think we’ve come a long way since the start of the year in being able to trust one another out there,” Whipple said. “It’s easier now for Kendra (Dahlke) or Julia (Patterson) to tell us to step it up, which helps the younger players like myself.”

Follow Christopher Boan on Twitter at @cgboan