We haven’t had college sports for more than three months now due to the coronavirus pandemic, making this the longest offseason ever. Literally, not just figuratively.
But with student-athletes returning to campuses across the country, it looks like our long national nightmare might be over sometime soon.
So now is as good a time as ever to take a look at each of the Arizona Wildcats’ 19 different men’s and women’s programs to see what shape they’re in and what prospects they have for the near future.
To help prepare you for the 2020-21 seasons of Arizona’s 19 different men’s and women’s programs, 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 at this season and beyond).
NOTE: The information in the ‘before’ section has been repurposed from last year’s series to provide continuity.
Next up: Dave Rubio’s volleyball program.
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-Bakersfield to a Division II national title in 1989.
Where things stand now
After reaching the NCAA tournament in 2018, Arizona took a significant step back last year with a losing record and a dismal 5-15 mark in Pac-12 play. It didn’t help that the Wildcats were injury-riddled, with three of their top six hitters missing most of the conference slate with concussions.
It’s been up and down for a few years, with Arizona going 40-60 in the Pac-12 since 2015, yet Rubio remains the right man for the job. He’s under contract through 2023, and with 20 NCAA appearances in 28 seasons he is entitled to some leeway.
Arizona’s roster is going to look very different in 2020 due to graduation, transfers (in and out) and freshman additions. The Wildcats will have 11 newcomers compared to just six returners, though they will bring back star outside hitter Paige Whipple, their lone four-year senior.
Arizona’s nine-member freshman class is ranked No. 7 in the nation by VolleyHigh, the Wildcats’ best since 2004 and the first time they’ve had the highest-rated class in the conference since 2006.
One big question
When will they play, and will they be ready? With the recent hiring of Matt Dyck as assistant coach, UA has a complete staff after being short since April. It still doesn’t know when it will be able to have that staff start working with a very inexperienced roster, one that as it stands now would be diving right into ultra-tough Pac-12 competition with the conference canceling all non-conference competition for fall sports.
“I think in a young team like us it certainly makes it more challenging with us losing all the seniors that we did last year and integrating a new setter, and it’s going to be a freshman, potentially,” Rubio said on a recent Zoom press conference. “I think the one thing that’s very unforgiving that’s proved over the course of time is inexperience, and we’re certainly going to come to the table. So maybe with the little amount of playing time, the playing field becomes more level for us. But only time will tell.”
It may end up working out in Arizona’s favor if fall sports are pushed into early 2021, since that would allow Rubio et. al to have more teaching time with the young group before actual matches begin.