Arizona head coach Dave Rubio was in a bit of a bind. He had planned for China Rai Crouch to return to her original position at opposite this year. Then she decided she needed to take a year off to fully recover from injuries suffered last season. Enter a helping hand from a former Pac-12 competitor that led him to Puk Stubbe in the Netherlands.
Ron Zwerver, former Oregon State associate head coach and Olympic medalist for the Netherlands, sent Rubio some film of Stubbe. The Beavers didn’t need an opposite, so he was trying to find somewhere else for her to go, particularly in the Pac-12. With just months to go before the season started, there wasn’t much time.
Just getting approval to take the trip was a long shot. It can take up to a month because international travel doesn’t just involve the athletic department. In five days, Rubio had his approval and was on a weekend trip to the Netherlands.
“That was just so fortuitous,” Rubio said. “You don’t get any luckier. After 30 years I deserve a little luck. But it was certainly well worth the trip.”
It was almost as quick for Stubbe. At 21 years old, she had already been out of school for over a year. She graduated from high school at the age of 19, then had a year off due to the pandemic. Taking the plunge into NCAA volleyball and going back to school wasn’t something she had been planning on.
“Three months ago, I decided to do something else,” Stubbe said. “Because I already played beach volleyball for six years with the national team. I was kind of done with that, but I was not done with volleyball because I love volleyball.”
She was joking with her sister, who told her she should just go to America and play. Stubbe was sure she was too old for that, but Zwerver told her it was not outside the realm of possibility. He got to work on it, and it became reality very quickly.
The big question was whether she could stand to leave her family for that long, even for volleyball. The sport plays a huge role in her family. Her father John played professionally in the Netherlands and turned to announcing after his playing career. He has also been her coach. Her sister Joy is part of the beach volleyball national team for the Netherlands.
“I’m still really a family girl,” Stubbe said. “I’m always with my family. If I’m going to a game or tournament... my family’s coming. So now I have to go alone and they’re like, ‘Are you really doing this alone? You want this?’ I say yes. And my parents are really proud that I’m sort of grown up and I get in a new adventure all by myself.”
It has helped her to have a growing contingent of international players at Arizona. With her addition, the Wildcats now have four players on the roster who come from outside the U.S. That has not always been the case in Tucson, but it allows the international players to live close together and provide support.
Currently, Stubbe is living with Sofia Maldonado Diaz, who came from Mexico last season. They live in an apartment across the hall from Merle Weidt and Dilara Gedikoglu, who came from Germany and Turkey, respectively. While Weidt and Gedikoglu transferred to Arizona after spending time at other U.S. universities, Maldonado Diaz and Stubbe both came to Tucson directly from their home countries.
“I think we have the same experience because we’re so far away from home,” Stubbe said. And if you say, ‘Yeah, I’m missing my mother.’ I know what you mean. It’s not cool. Your mom is so far away.”
She also points to associate head coach Rita Stubbs and Rubio as sources of support.
“He gave me a real home feeling,” Stubbe said of Rubio.
On the court, she’s still in the process of learning. At home, she played indoor volleyball during the beach offseason but “just for fun.” Getting used to playing competitively on the hardcourt instead of the sand is taking some work.
“My brain is hurting after the training because I have to think so much,” Stubbe. “And I’m only here now for two-and-a-half weeks, and then we already have games. So it’s like I can do the things in the game but I have to keep my head in everything. Everything I do I have to think, so it’s kind of hard. But I think it’s good to have multiple things sort of in your backpack, like the things that I know from home, things I know from here.”
In her first three matches, Stubbe is averaging 2.44 kills per set on .250 hitting. She has five total blocks in nine sets. Her best outing was against New Mexico State, when she had 13 kills on .435 hitting and added an assist, an ace, and six digs.
While she is already having a positive effect on the court, Rubio thinks it will be even greater when she gets used to life off the court. One of the big transitions is going back to school.
“And this school is kind of hard for me to get because I was already done with school for a year,” she said. “So I really need to go into the school rhythm again, and I know I can do it.”
Stubbe has not decided on a major yet, but she is getting her general education requirements out of the way. After being out of school for over a year, she has to get used to going to classes again. Having it integrated with her athletic pursuits is also different.
“They’re two separate entities in Europe,” Rubio said. And so when you’re an athlete, you just focus on your athletics and you didn’t have to worry about school. At school, you just were a student and didn’t have to worry about being an athlete. Here, it’s the combination and trying to deal with the overload of that, then all the meetings that go with being a new student.”
The one thing school prepared her for was operating in an English-speaking world. Stubbe said she started taking basic English in elementary school, then moved up to more complex English-language classes as she advanced through the Dutch educational system.
Life outside school helped her grasp more informal English. Stubbe said that entertainment that is imported from English-speaking countries is not dubbed in the Netherlands. So, movies and songs from the U.S. helped her learn English as it’s actually spoken by native English speakers.
Now, she’s enjoying learning about the culture and climate of Southern Arizona.
“It’s warmer and sunnier,” she said. “The people are so positive, and they’re helping me... I love the energy of them.”
It’s one more experience she can put in her backpack for her future on and off the court.