When star outside hitter Kendra Dahlke tumbled to the ground with a non-contact injury against Utah, Dave Rubio feared two outcomes: a torn ACL or a torn Achilles.
The 25-year head coach has been around long enough to know it’s usually one of the two.
He was gladly wrong.
Dahlke actually suffered a right foot injury and Rubio hopes she will be able to return to Arizona’s lineup this season, though the UA is still gathering more information.
“We know it’s a foot issue, but we don’t know to what extent,” Rubio said Tuesday after practice. “The X-rays are negative in regards to any kind of fracture, other than that they’re waiting for the MRI.”
Rubio expects Dahlke to miss at least two weeks. The timing of the injury is not ideal since there are only five weeks left in the regular season and Arizona needs to play well down the stretch to secure its spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats are ranked 23rd in the AVCA poll, but 37th in RPI.
“Even missing a week, every week becomes critical in the position we’re in,” Rubio said. “Our non-conference isn’t strong enough to carry our RPI. I knew we would have to beat teams in the conference in order for us to put us in position to make the NCAA Tournament. And I was comfortable with that because I knew we were going to be really good, but I also knew that we needed confidence early on in the non-conference season. But that really wasn’t counting on injuries and I don’t think any coach really does.”
Coming off a sweep of Colorado and Utah, the Wildcats (16-6, 5-5 Pac-12) host the Oregon schools this week, who they swept on the road earlier this season. Candice Denny, Katie Smoot and Paige Whipple will take on more responsibility as Dahlke recovers.
“We’ll move the chess pieces around a little bit, but we’re running out of bodies,” Rubio said.
Whipple, a sophomore, is expected to step in as the team’s top attacker, a role she had two weeks ago against USC when Dahlke was out with a concussion. Denny, Smoot and Whipple combined for 35 kills that night. Whipple had 11.
“I like the challenge, I’m ready to embrace it,” she said.
Rubio said it’s also a good opportunity for Whipple, who entered the program with a lot of esteem, to assume a leadership role.
“In the USC game, that’s exactly what I told her,” he said. “Even though you don’t think the responsibilities are that much different when you’re the person that’s handling all those passing responsibilities. Katie won’t be in the back row and Paige is going to be passing in every single rotation. Where, when Kendra’s out there, she’s front row and she’s passing and Paige is just attacking in the back row.
“And offensively it just takes pressure off both of them when we have six rotations of someone coming out of the back row and hitting. Now we only have three rotations of someone doing that. That puts more pressure on the people who are front row, who don’t have a back row option.”
Arizona is used to battling through adversity. After all, five different players have missed time with concussions this season, including outside hitter Elizabeth Shelton who has been sidelined since mid-September.
Meanwhile, star setter Julia Patterson has been out the last two days with an illness.
“Sickness, injuries, we’re accustomed to it,” said middle blocker Devyn Cross, who dealt with a minor foot injury earlier in the year. “It’s second nature for us.”
Still, it’s no secret how important Dahlke is to the team — she leads the Pac-12 in kills and kills per set — so the Wildcats are anxious to get her back, whenever that may be.
“It’s always scary when anybody goes down, and it’s obviously scary when Kendra goes down because she’s our main attacker,” Cross said. “But we all know she’s strong, so she’ll bounce back from it very quickly.”
Dave Rubio talks about Arizona Volleyball’s upcoming rematch against the Oregon schools, Kendra Dahlke’s foot injury and morePosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Tuesday, October 23, 2018