Julia Patterson has always loved to assist.
When she played soccer as a kid, she was a center midfielder. On the basketball court, she was a point guard.
So it is only fitting that in eighth grade, after stints as an outside hitter and defensive specialist, she would move to setter and watch her volleyball career take off.
“I’d rather set up other people than do it myself,” she said.
Patterson has done that well with the Arizona Wildcats, entering her senior year ninth on the program’s all-time assists list (2,388), with a chance to move up to sixth if she has a strong season.
“I haven’t had any complaints about it,” Patterson said of her UA career. “It’s been super fun. The coaches have been awesome. The girls every year have been awesome. I feel like each year gets better and better.”
That has certainly been true for Patterson, who last season was an all-Pac-12 honorable mention after posting a career-high 1,343 assists. She also led the conference in double-doubles (20) by averaging 10.74 assists and 2.86 digs per set.
As a team, the Wildcats doubled their win total from 11 to 22 and returned to the NCAA Tournament after missing it in 2017. Arizona was marred by injuries, but Patterson was a steadying force as the only Wildcat to play every set.
Head coach Dave Rubio once compared her importance to that of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and joked that he wishes he could put Patterson in bubble wrap to ensure she stays healthy.
“Everything kind of runs around her,” Rubio said. “She’s the cog. She’s going to stir the drink for us.”
Rubio said Patterson has everything you want in a setter with “the exception that she’s not an exceptional athlete.”
“She’s a terrific coordinated athlete, but she’s got the right brain,” he said. “She’s just a real worker and understands the level of the setting and the offense that it requires. And then she’s a terrific leader. ... If she were an elite athlete, meaning like Devyn (Cross), then she’d be an international level player. ... But she’s elite and I wouldn’t trade her for anybody.”
Patterson has taken on even more of a leadership role as a senior, organizing game nights and making sure to form bonds with all of her teammates, especially the younger ones who are making the tough transition to college.
“She communicates very well with the rest of our team,” Cross said. “Being close with the team and having Julia build that confidence up with each other off the court helps on the court. And when we’re just hanging out, you can relax, you know that can put all your trust in your teammates.”
That showed this summer during the team’s trip to Europe, when Patterson rallied her teammates when a match felt like it was slipping away.
“We were down a couple points and it kind of just seemed like the game was gonna end and she’s like, ‘No, come on, let’s push,’” Cross said. “That gave us that confidence that we needed to push through.”
Arizona is ranked 24th in the country to start the 2019 campaign and was pegged to finish sixth in the Pac-12 by the conference’s coaches. Rubio believes the Wildcats can be a Top-10 team if their outside hitters become more physical.
Patterson, the one in charge of setting them up, is striving for a top-three finish in the conference, then a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m definitely leaving everything out on the floor,” she said. “I mean, not that I haven’t done it before, but obviously this year is a lot more meaningful. It’s my last go-around, I’m not going to go [pro], so knowing that this is my last couple games, and each game becomes close to the end game, I’m just trying to make everything worth it for the team, for myself, for the coaches, and make sure we end off on a good note.”
Star setter Julia Patterson hopes to finish in the Top 3 of the Pac-12 in her senior season with Arizona VolleyballPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Wednesday, August 14, 2019