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Arizona volleyball ready for Senior Day vs. Cal, rivalry game at ASU

Seniors Mackenzie Hernandez, Kendra Dahlke and Victoria Svorinic
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Kendra Dahlke, Victoria Svorinic and Mackenzie Hernandez all had different paths to Arizona and different reasons to become Wildcats, but they all share one thing: the impending finale of their college careers.

After a slew of transfers, Dahlke and Svorinic are the final members of the 2015 freshman class still playing for the Wildcats. They’ve been close since their first days on campus. It’s lasted through their final days as teammates. Through that time, they’ve learned to adapt and see the positives in the changes.

“We were actually each other’s first roommates here,” Svorinic said. “We had a class of eight, so there are two of us left now.”

While Dahlke was already committed to Arizona before her senior year in high school, Svorinic didn’t announce her commitment until a few months before the end of her high school days in Scottsdale. For her, it finally came down to playing for Arizona coach Dave Rubio and returning to her family’s roots in Tucson.

For Hernandez, the move to Tucson was also a family affair of sorts. After spending two years starring at Bakersfield College in her hometown, it was time to look for a landing spot. The ties both her family and junior college coach had with Rubio made the difference.

“Mackenzie’s aunt played for me,” Rubio said. “So, her mom’s sister, when I got hired at Cal State-Bakersfield, Lea Icardo was one of my first players. She played for me for two years, then transferred to St. Mary’s. So, there was a connection there.”

All three had to deal with changes once they got here. With six of their original freshman class leaving the program, Dahlke and Svorinic had to learn to adapt to an ever-shifting team.

“We’ve seen a lot of people leave,” Svorinic said. “Not just our class, but just in general. In general, we’ve always had a very different team each year, which is also on the plus side, we’ve played with so many great people. But it’s been fun to do it with Kendra.”

“And, I mean, we’re still close to the girls that we did come in with,” Dahlke added. “It’s kind of cool (that) even though we’re not playing together, we still see the great things they’re doing in their programs.”

For Hernandez, it was about being the new kid on the block and adapting to the jump from junior college to Pac-12 volleyball.

“The travelling, honestly,” she said when asked what the biggest change was for her. “And probably the commitment of the girls. I know that back when I was in juco, we all worked really hard and everything like that, but it’s definitely a different vibe when you come in and you meet everyone in the Pac-12. It’s completely grind, grind, grind.”

Despite their different paths, all three have played important roles. While Dahlke gets the most press as one of the top outside hitters in the country, Svorinic has been a member of the serve rotation all season. She has already exceeded the number of sets she appeared in last year, getting onto the court in 73 sets this campaign. Hernandez stepped in for Julia Patterson when she was injured last season, but has spent this season running the scout team.

“Kendra and, certainly, Victoria have brought so much to the program in different ways,” Rubio said.

As for his back-up setter, Rubio was adamant about the important role she plays for the group.

“For someone like Mackenzie, who doesn’t really play at all, and the person in the stands probably doesn’t think does much for the team, but to be honest with you, Mackenzie Hernandez is as important as any starter that’s out there,” he said. “She’s the one that’s running the second team. And you have to have someone who can run the second team, the scout team. It’s either that, or I’ve got to run it, and you don’t want some 60-year-old guy out there trying to set.”

Whether the public celebrates their contributions or they simply help make their teammates better in practice, Rubio believes all student-athletes get something out of the process and give something back, especially if their minds are in the right place.

“I think any athlete who can hang in there for four years deserves a lot of credit,” Rubio said. “They come from a different perspective. If you listen to pro players at the end of their career...like Damon Stoudamire said something on his blog or his Twitter that said, ‘If I could write a letter to my younger self, here’s the things I would say.’ I’m curious to find out what (Dahlke, Sovrinic and Hernandez) would say to their younger selves, four years later, to the young lady who came in as a freshman and prepare them for the rigors that they’re going to face.”

“I think it’s important that the players come in here and feel like whatever’s given to them is a benefit,” he said. “If they look at it—and young ladies don’t look at it this way when they come in; there’s a set of expectations that they have, and if those expectations aren’t met, then they’re unhappy. That’s why there’s a lot of unhappiness and happiness when you’re in college. Because depending on your perspective when you come in will determine whether you have a positive experience.

“If they come in with the right perspective, which is at the very end of the day I’m getting my education paid for most likely. I’m going to get all these benefits, because the Athletic Department is providing me with all these resources and benefits to be successful academically and athletically. Anything that I achieve above and beyond that is a benefit. So, I think if they come in with that kind of mindset, someone like Kendra, who’s having arguably one of the best years that any player’s ever had here as an outside hitter, then that’s all gravy.”

As they near the end of those four years, it’s time for the seniors to enjoy both the benefits and the gravy. In the end, the star outside hitter, the little who serves, and the scout-team setter all have the same goal for their last two regular-season matches: “Win!”

The matches

If the Wildcats get those final two wins, they’ll end up with a 22-10 regular season record. After going 11-18 last season, that would mean doubling up their win total in just one year even before any NCAA Tournament appearances. It would be the second-biggest turnaround in school history, trailing only the 12-win improvement between the 1979 and 1980 seasons.

Winning out would also give them an 11-9 conference record. Rubio isn’t certain that they have to win out to reach the tournament, but he does believe that they need to be at least .500 in the Pac-12. That means at least a split this week against California and Arizona State.

In Arizona’s advantage, both Cal and ASU are at the bottom of the league. The Golden Bears are standing in tenth place with a 15-14 overall record and 7-11 in conference. The Sun Devils are one place behind them in eleventh. They have a 14-16 overall record and are 5-13 in the Pac-12.

That’s not to say that it’s a foregone conclusion that the Wildcats will sweep this week. ASU upset No. 15 USC in Tempe on Sunday, and Cal did the same to No. 20 Washington State in Pullman.

Rubio believes both still have a lot to play for. Cal is still hoping to improve their stock enough to get into the NCAA Tournament, he said. ASU has a rivalry and a Territorial Cup point that they want to win. It’s up to the Wildcats to send their seniors out on top by frustrating both of those goals.

How to watch

Senior Day will be held at McKale Center on Wednesday at 4 p.m. MST, and can be viewed on Arizona Live Stream. The rivalry game will get started at 7 p.m. MST on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. It will air on Pac-12 Arizona. Fans can also follow both matches on Arizona Live Stats.