To commemorate the end of the decade, we will be compiling an all-decade (2010-19) team for each of the major Arizona programs. Next up: volleyball.
The decade started out strong for Arizona volleyball. Under the long-time tutelage of head coach Dave Rubio, the program had stars like Madi Kingdon to begin the decade, then powerhouses like Kalei Mau and Penina Snuka to follow.
In 2016, the team went to the program’s first Sweet Sixteen since 2005, when the Wildcats got all the way to the Elite Eight. The next year, things were a struggle. Having lost their leadership, the Wildcats struggled to find their way and missed the NCAA Tournament.
In 2018, things returned to normal. Despite battling injuries, Arizona was able to adapt and find their way back to the tournament behind the steady leadership of setter Julia Patterson, the athleticism of middle blocker Devyn Cross, and the explosive offense of outside hitter Kendra Dahlke.
Things ended on a down note as far as on-the-court results. Saddled with injuries to the point they were playing liberos at outside hitter, Arizona ended the season just below .500 and outside the tournament. Their coach was more interested in the way they pulled together, though, and refused to call it a lost season.
Next season, the Wildcats have one of their best recruiting classes ever on the way in. They will be extremely young in 2020, but they have a bright future...as long as the transfer bug stays away.
On to the best of the best.
Kendra Dahlke (2015-2018)
Even if only her senior season was under consideration, Kendra Dahlke would be one of the greatest Wildcats ever. For much of the season, she led the nation in kills per set with over five.
In the end, she finished fifth in the country and first in the Pac-12 with 4.77 k/s. No Wildcat had led the conference in kills per set since Kim Glass in 2005, and Dahlke was just the third to do it.
She had at least 10 kills in 26 of her 27 matches, and she found the floor at least 20 times in nine matches her final season in Tucson. Her 30 kills against New Mexico State made her the first Wildcat to hit that mark in two seasons.
It was enough for third team All-American honors from Volleyball Magazine and All-American honorable mention from the AVCA.
Dahlke also led the Wildcats in kills per set her sophomore and junior seasons. Even as a freshman, she was sixth on the team in kills per set and had at least 10 kills in four matches.
Kalei Mau (2014-2016)
Kalei Mau came to Arizona after a year at Minnesota. After playing only two sets for the Golden Gophers, she blossomed as a Wildcat, although she battled injuries in her final two seasons.
By her junior season, Mau was the primary offensive weapon for Arizona. Her 4.33 k/s were third in the conference and 23rd in the nation. She was also a beast on defense. Her 31 digs against SMU were fifth in program history. It was enough for All-Pac-12 first team honors.
She bettered that her senior year when she was named third team AVCA All-American becoming just the tenth All-American in Arizona history. She was second in the Pac-12 with 4.07 k/s that year, helping lead the Wildcats to their first Sweet Sixteen since they made the Elite Eight in 2005. Mau ended her career sixth in program history with 3.68 k/s.
Madi Kingdon (2011-2014)
Madi Kingdon is one of only three Wildcats to average over five kills per set for an entire season. Her 4.31 k/s over the course of her entire career placed her third on the program’s list. She did that while playing a total of 129 matches and 451 sets in her career, good for third and fourth in program history, respectively.
Kingdon is still No. 2 on the all-time kills list with 1,943 over her four years. When she left Arizona, she was also No. 2 on the all-time digs list with 1,366, but has since been overtaken by Penina Snuka and sits third.
Her senior year, she had 12 matches with at least 20 kills, trailing only the great Kim Glass who bested that number three times. She leads the program in matches with at least 10 kills, hitting that mark 34 times her senior year. Her junior year, she did it 28 times.
Her junior year, she was honorable mention on the AVCA All-American list. The next season, she moved up to third team. She became the first Wildcat to get on one of the top three teams since Jennifer Abernathy in 2005.
Devyn Cross (2016-2019)
Devyn Cross was a freak athlete who didn’t play high-level club volleyball. When a friend of coach Dave Rubio told him to come check out this player on Edwards Air Force Base, he did. It was well worth it. He had a four-year starter in the middle—and she was a good one.
Despite being only six feet tall at a position often played by women as tall as 6-foot-5, Cross was a force in the middle. Her freshman season, she became one of only five Wildcats to ever get five solo blocks in a single match. She played 129 sets that season, placing her third on the all-time sets played list.
Her stellar junior season earned her AVCA All-American honorable mention honors. Along with teammate Dahlke, Cross became the first Wildcat to get such an honor since 2016.
As for middle blockers, it had been even longer. No Wildcat had been named an All-American at that position since 1985 making her the first under Rubio.
Cross wound up her career by becoming one of only eight Wildcats to have at least 400 blocks. She left eighth all-time in total blocks. She also led the Wildcats in hitting percentage her final two seasons.
Halli Amaro (2012-2015)
Although she has since been overtaken by Penina Snuka and Laura Larson, Halli Amaro left Arizona having played more sets than anyone before her. Her 454 career sets played still stand third on the list. When she left, she had taken part in 80 wins.
In that time, she had 422 total blocks, good for sixth all-time. Her 354 assisted blocks were also sixth. Her sophomore season, she had 13 blocks against Oregon State. That tied for the Pac-12 lead in most blocks for a single match all year and tied for second all-time by a Wildcat.
She wasn’t just a blocker, though. Amaro had eight matches with double-digit kills her freshman season. Her senior season, she had six such matches.
Penina Snuka (2013-2016)
It started out great for Penina Snuka and only got better. In her freshman season, she was a member of the Pac-12 All-Freshman team. By her senior season, she was Pac-12 Setter of the Year, an honor never before earned by a Wildcat. She was either first or tied for first in the conference for double-doubles all four years at Arizona.
On the national stage, Snuka was also being noticed. She was named third team AVCA All-American her senior season after being honorable mention the previous two seasons. Along with Mau, she formed the core of the Wildcat team that reached the program’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance in 11 years.
Snuka had already reached eighth on the program’s all-time assists list by the end of her sophomore season. When it was all said and done, she was second in assists (5,212) and digs (1,610).
She was also durable. She played in all but one match over four seasons. The 135 matches was also second in program history. Her 489 sets played were the most ever.
Candace Nicholson (2010-2013)
The program’s all-time leader in digs tallied 1,642 in her career at Arizona. That was good for 3.77 d/s over the course of her career. Laura Larson (2013-2016), her biggest competition at this position, averaged over a full dig per set less at 2.55, giving Nicholson the nod at the position.
Nicholson finished sixth in school history with 125 matches played. Her 436 sets played put her seventh on the career list at Arizona.