It’s been 20 years since Arizona volleyball landed the No. 1 recruit in the country. Kim Glass arrived in 2002 as part of the country’s top recruiting class, became the 2002 National Freshman of the Year and rewrote the Arizona record book.
Since then, the highest-ranked recruit to join the Wildcats was local star Whitney Dosty, who was ranked fourth by the recruiting evaluators in 2006.
Carlie Cisneros is on track to change that in 2024.
Cisneros, who is currently ranked No. 1 in her class by Prep Volleyball, committed to Arizona on July 30. Questions are already being asked about the high school junior. Why would she choose the Wildcats who haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2018 and haven’t advanced beyond the first weekend since 2016?
“I’ve always kind of wanted to be that player,” Cisneros said. “I’ve always wanted to be that game changer. I want to be surrounded by other girls who have the same mentality as I do that we have to work together to get where we are like, ‘I couldn’t have done that by myself.’ It took every single girl that I worked with, my parents, my coaches—it took all of that to get me to where I am today. So when I go to college, I don’t want to peak I want to keep growing as a player and a person and help that program get to the next level.”
For fans of Arizona women’s sports, that viewpoint may remind them of Sam Thomas and Cate Reese. Thomas was the first top 100 recruit to commit to Adia Barnes after the coach took over the losing basketball program. Reese became the first female McDonald’s All-American to attend Arizona, joining the program the year after the Wildcats won just six games. The two players took the Wildcats to the first Final Four in program history.
If Cisneros and head coach Dave Rubio are going to duplicate that feat, it will take more than just the outside hitter from halfway across the country. To that end, Cisneros has been keeping an eye on the recruiting being done by the Arizona staff. She believes Rubio is putting together something special, building on current players like Sofia Maldonado Diaz and Jaelyn Hodge.
“I think he’s finding the right girls, and I put a lot of faith in him,” Cisneros said. “And I think we can make something happen.”
It’s not just what will happen on the court that interests Cisneros, though. Associate head coach Rita Stubbs has spoken about how important Rubio was to both her personal development away from volleyball and her professional development on the sidelines.
Whether he’s talking about his players or his own children, Rubio is as likely to talk about what they will accomplish off the court someday as he is to talk about their achievements on it. Cisneros picked up on those things.
“Coach Rubio has done amazing work in the Pac in the past,” Cisneros said. “But when I spoke with him on the phone, he made it sound like he cared more about the person I became than winning a match. He said that’s very important for him. If he recruits the right players, then winning will just come along with it.”
Rubio had a lot of selling points, but he wasn’t the only person who made her want to come to Tucson.
“I loved his mentality, his coaching style, and, of course, Rita was absolutely amazing when I talked to her for the past two months,” Cisneros said.
There were concerns, though. Rubio just signed a contract extension that should keep him in charge of the program until 2026. However, he just turned 63 this year and the issue of retirement is always in the air. Once again, it was Stubbs who smoothed any fears Cisneros had about committing to a program led by a coach nearing the end of his career.
“It made me really nervous because I wanted to be coached by Coach Rubio,” Cisneros said. “He said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen in 2026, but if he is to retire, Rita would take over and I absolutely love her. So it just made me feel a lot better when I found out that the person who is going to be taking his spot in the future is someone I also really enjoy.”
Then, she went on the internet to see what she could learn about the program.
“It just felt right,” she said. “And I’ve seen many videos and so I did so much research on Arizona, that just felt like the right fit for me. And I wanted to go to a program to help them succeed.”
Cisneros has experienced making a fanbase fall in love with volleyball. Going to a college where the sports’ teams are at the heart of the city appeals to her. She would like to replicate what she did at Liberty North when she gets to Tucson.
“In high school, everyone in the school used to always care about football,” Cisneros said. “But after we won state my freshman year, now everyone comes to the volleyball games, and now it is a volleyball-football school, which is really nice.”
There’s still a lot to learn about Arizona, though. The native of Kansas City, Missouri will be coming a long way to attend the college she has committed to and she still has not even visited campus yet. She will take her official visit to Tucson this weekend, putting her in town for the Red-Blue match on Saturday, Aug. 20.
If it all seems so quick, it was partially by design and partially because she felt so strongly about the Wildcats. Cisneros said that she wanted to have her decision made by the end of August so she could focus on her final two years of high school at Liberty North High.
Cisneros wanted everything in place before her junior season started, but she gave her verbal even sooner than she had originally planned. Instead of the end of August, she had already decided where she would go by July.
“It started off really challenging just because it was a lot to take in,” she said. “So many different schools that I’ve never heard of or never thought of reaching out did reach out, Arizona being one of them. And I really took my time and I shrunk down my list. But then when nationals came up, a lot more schools reached out again. So, then I had to re-narrow down my list. And when I did that, Arizona was on top because it just felt like the right place for me. And I did know that I wanted to commit to Arizona a little earlier because I didn’t want to lose that opportunity to go to that school.”
Attending Arizona means picking up and leaving her siblings and parents. Her dad was not overly thrilled with the idea initially, she said, but her mom convinced him that she would be fine.
Enjoy the journey! To all the coaches that helped, I thank you so much! Passing the torch to her future Coach, volleyball legend @CoachDaveRubio. Thank you for the opportunity. #C3C @PrepVolleyball @VBMagazine @PrepDigMO @PrepDigChris @PrepDigKS @PrepDig @myCTsports https://t.co/i1fTbVH1ZH— James Cisneros (@Coach_Cisneros) July 31, 2022
Still, it will be different. Cisneros is one of five kids, all of whom are athletes. As the children of a baseball coach, both softball and baseball were popular in the household. Cisneros’ two brothers continue to play baseball and her older brother just left to attend Jacksonville University where he will play at the Division I level.
For Cisneros and her two younger sisters, though, volleyball won out. For the older daughter, she loved the way a volleyball team has to work together as one in order to be successful.
“I loved the fire, the competition,” Cisneros said. “In a lot of sports, it’s very easy to be a ball hog or make it all about you, but with volleyball you need every single person on that court because not one person can do everything. So I love that aspect of the game where you need everyone around you to be just as committed as you are or else you’re not going to get anywhere.”
Cisneros will get the opportunity to see the fire and commitment of her future teammates this weekend. She is taking her official visit in order to be on hand to watch the Red-Blue game Saturday at 2 p.m. PT. The scrimmage is open to the public and will be streamed for free on Arizona Live Stream.