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Arizona volleyball adds size, talent with 2020 recruiting class

arizona-wildcats-volleyball-stock-report-evaluation-program-2020-dave-rubio-coaching-staff-pac-12 Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Injuries to their bigs have been obstacles for the Arizona volleyball team the last two seasons. In 2019, they have completely derailed a promising year. With the class the staff has signed for 2020, the pieces are there to finally recover.

Arizona head coach Dave Rubio and his staff have brought in four players who will add much-needed size to the Wildcats’ rotation. A setter completes the five-player class.

All five members of the class are listed among the top 110 players in the country by Prep Volleyball. Four made the publication’s Top 100, and the final member was listed among the 10 who just missed out.

The Wildcats got the highest-ranked player they’ve had since 2006 and the most top-50 players they’ve had since 2012.

“We meet our needs with this class,” Rubio said in the University’s press release. “We needed more depth in the middle and we were able to do that. We needed a setter and we got the setter that we wanted. We got an outside hitter and a setter that were at the top of our list and we got elite size. And then you talk about six-rotation outside hitters, those are like leprechauns riding a unicorn, they’re hard to find, especially with all of the attention we give them in our system. And we’re excited to get back into Texas. We signed two prospects from Texas, just the second and third prospects from Texas that we’ve signed since I’ve been here.”

Jaelyn Hodge

High school: Basha High School (Chandler, Arizona)

Hometown: Queen Creek, Arizona

Position: Outside hitter

Height: 6 feet

PrepVolleyball Rank: No. 20

Rubio’s review: ”Jaelyn is one of the best prospects we’ve signed in a long time. She’s up there with Dominique Lamb, Madi Kingdon and Penina Snuka as the highest profile recruits we’ve signed out of Phoenix since I’ve been here. She has all the tools; we haven’t had an outside hitter like her in a really long time. She’s full of potential. She’s smooth and twitchy with elite jumping ability.”

High school career and how she fits in at Arizona: Hodge transferred from Queen Creek to Basha for her senior year. It turned out to be a good decision.

Going into the season, the Arizona Republic named her one of the 10 girls volleyball players to watch. After sitting out nine games as per AIA transfer rules, she showed why.

Hodge helped lead the Bears in an upset of the top-ranked Perry Pumas for the 6A state title on Tuesday. It was Basha’s first state title in the sport.

It was Basha’s second win over Perry this season. When the two teams first met back in October, Hodge had 30 kills.

In her junior year at Queen Creek, Hodge averaged 3.61 kills per set on .233 hitting. She added 2.72 digs per set and had a total of 28 aces over 69 sets.

Hodge will be the highest-rated Arizona volleyball recruit since junior Paige Whipple came in as Prep Volleyball’s No. 27 player. She is the first top-20 player to sign with the Wildcats since 2006 when No. 4 Whitney Dosty put her name on the dotted line. Along with Lauren Ware, she becomes a member of the first top-50 tandem in Tucson since Lauren Fuller and Olivia Magill came to town in 2012.

Lauren Ware

High school: Century High

Hometown: Bismarck, North Dakota

Height: 6 feet, 5 inches

Position: Middle blocker/opposite

PrepVolleyball Rank: No. 50

Rubio’s review: “Lauren is a terrific volleyball prospect. She can play anywhere along the net, play in any tempo – slides, high balls, quick sets. We will start her out in the middle. Lauren has a great arm and a lot of natural ability for the sport. We expect Lauren to contribute right away.”

High school career and how she fits in at Arizona: Ware caused quite a stir in Tucson when she committed to play for both Arizona volleyball and women’s basketball. The two-sport star was highly-ranked and highly-recruited in both sports, but credited the way Rubio and basketball coach Adia Barnes worked together as the deciding factor in her recruitment.

Ware has spent her senior year sitting out of both sports after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament at a volleyball tournament in July.

In her junior season, she led the Century Patriots to their fourth straight state title while contributing 586 kills, 86 blocks, 187 digs and 48 aces. Ware was part of three of those state titles. She won the North Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year for volleyball in 2018.

Emery Herman

High school: Georgetown High

Hometown: Georgetown, Texas

Height: 6 feet

Position: Setter

PrepVolleyball Rank: No. 68

Rubio’s review: “Emery is a setter that’s going to step in and really take over the reins for Julia (Patterson). Julia has really been invaluable for our program and I’ve been fortunate to have her, but I feel like Emery is going to step right in. Right now, I’m pretty excited about her coming in a semester early, so she’ll get a full semester under her belt, to learn the offense and kind of just get acclimated to school.”

High school career and how she fits in at Arizona: After a career that will see her graduate in the top 10 for assists at Arizona, Patterson will leave big shoes to fill. Rubio thinks Herman is primed to step into them, and the Under Armour Girls High School All-America Committee agreed.

Herman ended her high school career as a member of the 2019 Under Armour Girls High School All-America third team.

She averaged 3.5 assists and 3.2 digs per set over the course of her prep career, often playing in a 6-2 system.

Herman was also called upon to do a great deal of scoring for her high school team, especially earlier in her career. In that capacity, she has averaged as many as 2.5 k/s during her sophomore season and hit as high as .310 in her junior season.

During her senior season, Herman focused more on setting duties and increased her assists to a career-high 5.2 assists per set. She also matched her career high of 3.4 digs per set.

China Crouch

High school: Carlsbad High

Hometown: Oceanside, California

Height: 6 feet, 6 inches

Position: Opposite/middle blocker

PrepVolleyball Rank: No. 73

Rubio’s review: “China Crouch is going to give us elite size. Terrific young lady from San Diego. 6-foot-6, 6-foot-5. Really terrific athlete, good personality, been playing volleyball for a long time. China is someone that we’ve been recruiting for a long time. She gives us elite size once again that we’ve had some success with in the past. She gives us some positional versatility; she can play in the middle, on the right or on the left. She can hit in any tempo in any zone along the net and can go off one foot or two.”

High school career and how she fits in at Arizona: Playing on a team that has been described as “behemoth,” Crouch and her Carlsbad teammates won their first game of the CIF State Division II playoffs on Tuesday night. None of the players on the Lancers’ team is taller than the 6-foot-6 Crouch, though.

That kind of size advantage is something that Arizona rarely has. The Wildcats’ best middle blocker is 6-foot senior Devyn Cross.

Size isn’t always the most important thing. After all, Cross made her way to the AVCA All-American honorable mention list last year by using athleticism instead of height. There’s no denying that tall middle blockers can cause fits for hitters trying to find the floor, though.

With the addition of Crouch and Ware to a group of middle blockers that includes 6-foot-5 sophomore Zyonna Fellows, Arizona will finally have several at the position who can disrupt things at the net with their size.

Of course, as her history and Rubio’s statements indicate, she could always play as a tall outside hitter at the college level.

Shelby O’Neal

High school: Samuel Clemens High

Hometown: Schertz, Texas

Height: 6 feet, 1 inch

Position: Outside hitter

PrepVolleyball Rank: Senior Aces “The 150”

Rubio’s review: “Shelby is a really skilled outside hitter. She has all the skills that this program requires a six-rotation left-side hitter to have. She can pass, she has a wonderful platform, she’s a decent blocker and she has a terrific arm in addition to a wonderful brain and a really high volleyball IQ. She has all the skills necessary to be an upper-level Pac-12 outside hitter.”

High school career and how she fits in at Arizona: O’Neal is the second outside hitter in the class. While Arizona had some depth at the position going into the 2019 season, midway through the Pac-12 season, they were forced to move 5-foot-7 libero Kamaile Hiapo to the position due to injuries.

Even before Hiapo was put in service, Rubio mentioned at the beginning of the year that their outside hitters were often not terminal enough. They just weren’t getting the number of kills they needed against top competition.

Over her career at Clemens high, O’Neal averaged 4.1 k/s with a .294 hitting percentage. In her senior season, she contributed 4.2 k/s but only hit .231. That was down from her sophomore year when she had her best mark of 5.1 k/s on a .337 hitting percentage.

O’Neal was a 2019 Under Armour Girls High School All-America honorable mention selection. She also committed to play for coach Scott Walker and the Wildcats’ beach volleyball team.