Arizona volleyball starts the second half of the Pac-12 season on Friday. They aren’t where they expected to be at this point in the season with just two wins in conference play. Head coach Dave Rubio talks about what they are still trying to accomplish, competitive fire, confidence, and the induction of Paralympic gold medalist Whitney Dosty into the Arizona Ring of Honor.
Rubio was rather reflective and philosophical as he talked about the upcoming matches against Oregon and Oregon State, as well as the rest of the season.
Hometown girl made good
Whitney Dosty was a late bloomer, but the Tucson native stormed onto the volleyball scene and the recruiting boards of the nation’s top college programs late in her prep career. She started out not planning to pursue sports at all.
“She came on the scene late,” Rubio said. “She was a ballerina, and if you see her now you would be like, ‘How in the world can that kid ever be a ballerina?’ But back when she was 9, 10, 11, 12 years old, she was pencil thin and still about 5-9, and just as elite as you can come in terms of speed, quickness. So she was dancing in New York every summer with the Alvin Ailey Dancers.”
Her family was big on sports, though. She eventually decided that would be her path, too.
“Her sister was a big basketball player and ended up going to Tennessee,” Rubio said. “I always felt like Whitney was going to be just as good if not better in the sport of volleyball and finally when she hit a growth spurt at Salpointe [Catholic High School]. She decided to put her attention towards volleyball. So we were fortunate enough to get her here because we had to fight off Texas and Nebraska. One of the few times that we’ve been able to kind of—we had enough connection here with her that we were able to keep her here in town.”
Dosty played indoor volleyball overseas as a pro but was eventually forced to stop due to injuries to her ankles. That’s when she turned to sitting volleyball, where she won a gold medal at the 2020 Paralympics as part of Team USA.
Post-college awards aren’t what impresses Rubio, though. He said he’s more interested in the lives his players lead after college than their athletic pursuits or accolades.
“I’m obviously very proud of what she’s accomplished and it couldn’t have been a better person,” Rubio said. “I mean, she bleeds red and blue and she grew up in Tucson. Wish her dad could be here to see this moment for her. He’d be an awfully proud father.”
On the lessons of the season to date
Along the same lines, Rubio talked about what his players can take from this season even if it doesn’t end in the NCAA Tournament as they had hoped. While they are still hoping to turn it around and get that invite, there are things to take away even if it doesn’t happen.
“Those are the challenges,” Rubio said. “Those are the things about sports that make you. Either you thrive or you don’t. I told the team, I said, ‘You know, this is really a reflection of how life is going to be for everybody.’ I mean, it’s like, life doesn’t go always the way you want it to go, and I said anybody that’s an adult will tell you that. And so, obviously, we never thought we’d see ourselves in this place right now, but here we are and what are we going to do to make the best of it and meet the challenges that come with where we are and continue to get better?”
Rubio said that if his own daughter Olivia were in this position with the Arizona beach volleyball team, he would want head coach Steve Walker to have the same discussions with her.
“As a parent, you really care less about the wins and losses and more about what’s happening day to day and the things that you’re teaching those kids,” Rubio said.
On confidence and intangibles
If the Wildcats are going to turn it around, it will depend as much on intangibles like confidence and competitive fire as on athletic talent and skill. Rubio has talked often this season about how things go wrong late in sets, and he puts a lot of that down to intangibles like “being a badass” and just wanting to impose your will on the opponent, as well as the desire to compete. He sees those kinds of intangibles in players like libero Kamaile Hiapo and backup setter Ana Heath, but he says it needs to come from the starting pins and setter.
“It’s in us [to compete with teams like Oregon],” Rubio said. “We certainly can do it, but we haven’t been able to kind of do enough to win the matches. Been doing enough to come close, and I told them on Friday, there’s just no more consolation in getting close. And I said our best players have to play well. At the end of the day, the ones who carry us have to play well at the ends of sets.”
As to how to instill confidence in those players that they can do it, Rubio isn’t sure there’s an easy answer to that.
“The positivity that comes out of the practice or out of me or whatever it may be can only get you so far,” Rubio said. “And there’s accountability for everybody, whether it’s me being accountable for what I’m gonna say to the players in difficult situations like we face right now. The players have to be accountable for the things they’ve been taught and for the player they become...At the end of the day, the person who’s got to deal with the confidence is you. As positive as I can be and as much as I can encourage them, at the end of the day, they’re the ones who’ve got to look in the mirror and they’re the ones who have to say, ‘Okay, I can do it. I believe in myself. I can be fearless and I can do it.’”
No. 18 Oregon Ducks (13-5, 7-3 Pac-12) @ Arizona Wildcats (12-9, 2-8 Pac-12)
When: Friday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. MST
Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
TV: Pac-12 Arizona
Stats: Arizona Live Stats
Rankings: Oregon is ranked No. 18 in the AVCA coaches poll and is No. 14 in RPI. Arizona is not ranked in the AVCA poll and is No. 96 in the RPI.
Standings: Oregon is tied with Washington and Washington State for fourth in the Pac-12. Arizona is tied with Oregon State for 10th.
Oregon State (7-13, 2-8 Pac-12) @ Arizona (12-9, 2-8 Pac-12)
When: Sunday, Oct. 30 at 12 p.m. MST
Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.
Streaming: Arizona Live Stream
Stats: Arizona Live Stats
Rankings: Neither team is ranked in the AVCA coaches poll. Arizona is No. 96 in the RPI, while Oregon State is No. 143.
Standings: Both teams are tied for 10th in the Pac-12 standings.