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). The series began with a look at football under second-year coach Kevin Sumlin.
Next up: Dave Rubio’s volleyball team
How it looked before
We have to go way back to assess what Arizona looked like before Rubio came along, seeing as he’s been in charge of the program since 1992. A change was needed when he was hired, though, as the Wildcats went 4-26 under 11th-year coach Rosie Wegrich and went winless in conference play, missing the postseason for the third consecutive season.
Rubio, meanwhile, had established himself as an up-and-comer by leading Cal State-Baskersfield to a Division II national title in 1989.
Where things stand now
Arizona is coming off a 2018 season in which it won 22 matches, its most since 2014, finishing fifth in the Pac-12 (also best since 2014) and making the NCAA tournament. A first-round loss to Missouri was disappointing, but after doubling the previous year’s win total it was a sign that things were on the right track.
So it was no surprise that Arizona opted to extend Rubio’s contract in May, through 2023. No terms were released, but he earned $144,200 in 2018 which seems like a steal for a coach who is one of just two in Pac-10/12 history with 500-plus wins.
Arizona has made the NCAA tourney 20 times in Rubio’s 27 seasons, winning 20-plus games 14 times and reaching at least the Sweet 16 on occasions including most recently in 2016.
The 2019 team is set to return five starters, losing star outside hitter Kendra Dahlke but adding JUCO All-American Mahina Pua’a and a pair of top-100 prep prospects in Kamaile Hiapo and Simone Overbeck. A return trip to the NCAA tournament seems look a safe bet, assuming Arizona can avoid the massive bad luck it encountered last season with concussions and head injuries.
One big question
Can the Wildcats return to the top tier of the Pac-12? When Arizona reached the Sweet 16 in 2016 it did so despite finishing tied for seventh in the conference, an indication of just how deep the Pac-12 is. But it also fell in line with where the Wildcats have placed in the league most years, a range of between fifth and and eighth that has occurred 13 of the last 16 seasons.
Arizona has only finished in the top four twice in that time period, taking third in 2014 and tying for second in 2005 (when it made the Elite Eight but followed that with three straight NCAA tourney-less seasons). But from 1997-2002 the Wildcats were in the top four every year, sharing the conference title in 2000.
No one is expecting Arizona to become like Stanford, which has won the league 18 times in 33 seasons and has never been outside the top four. But after the Cardinal the hierarchy is much more fluid, with the likes of Oregon, UCLA, USC and the Washington schools lately trading places behind Stanford.