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Dave Rubio explains why the 2020 Arizona volleyball season will be ‘really tough to pull off’

The UA coach prefers the Pac-12 plays a double the spring

COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: SEP 14 New Mexico State at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pac-12 announced last week that fall sports will move to conference-only schedules in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, effectively stripping Arizona volleyball of four weeks of its season, or about 12 non-conference matches.

The Pac-12 is expected to announce revised schedules for fall sports by the end of July, and UA coach Dave Rubio would like to see volleyball move to a double round-robin that would call for 22 conference matches instead of the customary 20.

(Pac-12 teams usually play nine conference rivals twice and the two others once.)

Rubio noted that the extra weeks lost from the non-conference season can be used as bye weeks in case of a coronavirus outbreak.

“I’m in favor of a double round-robin just because it gives us a true champion and we get a chance to play everyone the same amount of time,” Rubio said. “But I don’t think we’re out of the woods on this thing.”

Because it’s still unclear if volleyball will have a season at all. The Wildcats were supposed to report to campus for voluntary workouts in July, but a spike in coronavirus cases in Pima County caused the UA to pause its student-athlete re-entry plan, putting the volleyball program in indefinite limbo.

Rubio hopes the season can still commence sometime in the fall, but didn’t sound optimistic in a 20-minute interview with local media, citing a long list of concerns.

“There’s a lot of things, like on travel,” he said. “Getting on an airplane alone, you’re at high risk. They’re talking about putting players in individual (hotel) rooms, so there’s a significant cost increase with that. How do you take care of the kids from a food standpoint? I mean, there’s just so many different things that we have to mitigate to try to make this thing work. And then what happens if the coaches go down and they’ve got to go in quarantine for two weeks? Who’s coaching the team?

“It’s just a long laundry list of potential issues that you have to deal with should they arise. And they’re going to arise, that’s the thing. It’s not like they’re not going to happen. It’s gonna happen. And so you’re trying to figure out how to mitigate all those things and that’s a tough one to handle. That’s like me trying to figure out a calculus problem. That’s almost impossible.”

If there is one advantage volleyball has it’s that, unlike football and soccer, it’s not a contact sport. But opposing blockers and hitters still come into close proximity at the net, so Rubio expects players and coaches to wear masks this season.

“There’s going to be opportunities to breathe in the opponent’s droplets, and so I don’t think there’s any way of getting around that,” he said.

The best solution would be pushing the season to the spring, Rubio said.

“I think time right now is our enemy, and when you move the season to the spring, I think time becomes an ally,” he said. “It allows us time to figure out the virus, and really the only solution to the virus, the only way we mitigate the virus, is if we find a vaccine. And so right now as we start to go through all the protocols of bringing the players in and all the different phases that we’re talking about, I think we could put all those things on the backburner if we moved it to spring.”

That plan wouldn’t come without flaws, though. If Arizona volleyball played in the spring, it would have to share McKale Center with gymnastics and both UA basketball programs, possibly creating scheduling conflicts when it comes to practices and games.

Plus, there is no guarantee the virus will be tamed by then.

“It’s not going to be ideal, it’s not going to be perfect by any means, I think sacrifices are going to needed to be made by everybody,” Rubio said. “But I think for one season we could probably make it work, and it certainly makes a lot of sense to do that. But I think there’s other reasons, unforeseeable reasons, that I don’t know and that maybe people above my pay grade are considering and I think that’s what’s happening.

“There’s information out there that I don’t have, so it’s easy for me to stand on the side and be the Monday morning quarterback and say I think this is best, but I think there’s a lot of people who are smarter than I am that have a bigger picture than I have that are making these decisions. And there’s a reason why they’re keeping us in the fall, and I trust those people who are making those decisions that it’s the right thing to do.”

Either way, Rubio admitted the 2020 volleyball season is going to be “really tough for us to pull off.”

“I’m hopeful. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I feel terrible for the seniors, for someone like Paige (Whipple), for all those seniors...and their idea that they’re going to have the best season of their career their senior year,” he said. “But this is unprecedented times and I just don’t know how we can mitigate all the risks. There’s a lot at stake obviously, and that’s why we’re pursuing the season. But we know that because of the virus and the pandemic that certain things are going to be turned inside out.”

Extra hits

  • The Pac-12 announced that student-athletes who sit out this season will have their scholarships honored by their schools, but Rubio said none of his players have expressed concerns about playing: “Right now they have a very small view of what’s going on here at the university. I mean they’re at home and when you’re at home and you are kind of in a bubble. And I think once you step outside that bubble and you go to the university, and eventually they’ll be on campus, that maybe some of them will have second thoughts about being exposed to our environment. I’m hoping and keeping my fingers crossed that that won’t happen.”
  • Rubio said he has not yet had a discussion with women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes about how two-sport athlete Lauren Ware would handle her freshman season if volleyball and women’s basketball were both played in the spring. A source said Ware is under scholarship for women’s basketball.
  • Incoming freshman Shelby O’Neal is another two-sport athlete (volleyball, beach volleyball) but Rubio said she will be redshirting for indoor volleyball this season, “so that’s not gonna be a real issue for us. Lauren Ware (is an) issue because she’s an impact player for both programs.” A source said O’Neal is redshirting for depth chart purposes, not an injury or health reasons.
  • Rubio also discussed the hiring of new assistant coach Matt Dyck. We will have more on that tomorrow.

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