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Taking Stock: How Arizona beach volleyball is looking under coach Steve Walker

arizona-wildcats-beach-volleyball-steven-walker-stock-analysis-program-2019 Courtesy Arizona Athletics

It may seem like college sports are always going on, but July is the one month of the year when no Arizona Wildcats teams are in action. Yep, we’re as sad about that as you are.

Before you know it, the 2019-20 seasons will be under way for Arizona’s 19 men’s and women’s sports. But in the meantime, now is the perfect opportunity to assess how each of these programs are doing.

Over the next few weeks we’ll break down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now (as well as looking into the near future).

Next up: Steve Walker’s beach volleyball team.

How it looked before

In the beginning there was … nothing. No, seriously. Beach volleyball is Arizona’s newest sport, added in 2013, and Walker was chosen as the man to lead the fledgling program. He had been a member of Dave Rubio’s indoor volleyball staff since 2007 (along with a stint from 2003-05 and another in 2000).

Where things stand now

Arizona’s first season at the NCAA level came in 2016, when the sport became officially sanctioned, having played at a club level prior to that. That year there were only about 40 Division I programs, with more than 60 in action in 2018-19, yet from the outset Arizona has been among the top ones.

That 2016 team made the first-ever NCAA championship, placing fifth in the eight-team tournament. The 2017 squad ended the season ranked 13th, while the 2018 team was 14th.

Most recently, Arizona went 25-6, winning its final 15 matches to end up 12th nationally. That prompted the school to extend Walker’s contract through the 2022 season, likely at a slight bump from the $76,000 he earned in 2018-19.

One big question

Can the SandCats be elite? USC won the first two NCAA beach volleyball titles, with UCLA claiming the last two. All told, only 13 different schools have made the championship tournament, including Arizona in 2016, with nine getting there at least twice.

Arizona is in the top league for the sport and has an endless supply of sunshine and great weather to play. What will it take for it to crack into that top group on a regular basis?

Maybe it will come in the form of the next recruiting class, a six-member group that includes the first Tucson-area prospects to join the program. Summer McDonough, a 6-foot blocker from Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, and Alex Parkhurst, a 6-foot-2 blocker from Salpointe Catholic.