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Setter Ana Heath is working on becoming a leader for Arizona volleyball

Arizona sophomore Ana Heath (7) sets the ball against USC on Oct. 8, 2023 at McKale Center
Photo by Catherine Regan / Arizona Athletics

Earlier this year, Arizona volleyball head coach Rita Stubbs said that setter Ana Heath had no problem coming into Stubbs’ office and talking her ear off. Heath just had a problem doing that once she was on the court. Heath would probably not disagree with that sentiment.

“I think my communication on the court as a whole is one thing that I need to work harder on,” Heath said. “Like being louder type thing. That’s something that me and Rita have been talking about. Just being more vocal. Not necessarily like the one-on-one between me and hitters, but just like with all six of us on the court at once and having a bigger vocal presence with that.”

Heath was supposed to still be backing up former Wildcat Emery Herman. When Herman decided to transfer after last season, Heath was the heir apparent. It might not be what she expected to be doing her sophomore season, but she looked forward to the possibilities.

“I was excited because I want to play,” Heath said. “I wanted to help the team out more than just serving in sets and everything. So I was excited, but I was definitely sad to see her go because I loved her. We got along really well. But I was looking forward to working with the team and filling in that role and just getting better.”

It’s been somewhat of a difficult transition for the young setter. A combination of inexperience on her part and Arizona’s passing difficulties have put a lot on her plate. Last week, it looked like there was finally a breakthrough.

Although Arizona lost a five-setter to Oregon State, Stubbs said Heath had the best match of her career as far as setting goes. She was also happy to see the sophomore use the dump to score and keep the opponent off-balance. It’s something that Heath has been hesitant to do, with most of her scoring coming on a more traditional overhand swing.

Stubbs isn’t quite sure what switched for Heath in the match against the Beavers.

“I know the rhythm of the four was much better,” Stubbs said. “She made herself an offensive threat, which is really good. I think that those are things that she’s been working on all season. So whenever you see her go up and purposefully attack the ball, that’s a good sign.”

Even when Heath made a mistake, she wasn’t paralyzed by it. She actually tried the same thing again rather than abandoning it.

“In the past, if she made a mistake, she would never think to go back,” Stubbs said. “So that was a huge growth moment for her.”

Heath thought the improvement wasn’t just about her. It was a feeling she got from her teammates.

“As a team, we had more confidence going into Oregon State,” Heath said. “We had more positive energy. I felt like we were more relaxed, less tense. Me, personally, I just wanted to focus on putting the hitters in a good position, especially after Oregon, and having a rough match. Just doing the little things better.”

Heath has been working with new setting coach Steven Duhoux this year to try to get those little things right. While she said the training itself is similar, largely because Stubbs had been there prior to taking over as the head coach, there are things about her technique that she needs to improve and be more consistent with.

“A couple of the big things that Rita and Steven are reminding me of is like keeping my hands firm and squaring up,” Heath said. “So, just keeping those in the back of my head at all times.”

Her next opportunities to get the little things right come on the road against Colorado and Utah. Both the Buffaloes (10-9, 2-6) and the Utes (8-10, 3-5) are having their own problems, especially in conference play. The problem for the Wildcats is that they haven’t been able to take advantage of matches against teams that are in similar straits, as losses to California and Oregon State demonstrated.

“Every match is a match that I truly believe that should things be lined up, we could win,” Stubbs said. “So, I never go into a match thinking this match is tougher or this match is easier. But there are threats that come with an opponent who is in the same position you are. You know, searching for those wins and whatnot. So if there’s a hesitation or pause it is more so because of that. I know that watching film on both of them, I can imagine how their coaches are feeling working with them because sometimes things work and then other times things don’t work, and it’ll be interesting talking to see if there are walls and whatnot as a result of their chemistry or this is a result of just new players being on the floor or new bodies in different positions. Because any given time, it could be any of those things or all of those things.”

Arizona Wildcats (6-13, 1-7) @ Colorado Buffaloes (10-9, 2-6)

When: Friday, Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. MST

Where: CU Events Center in Boulder, Colo.

TV/Streaming: Pac-12 Mountain

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

RPI: Colorado is No. 62 in the RPI. Arizona is No. 99.

Arizona Wildcats (6-13, 1-7) @ Utah Utes (8-10, 3-5)

When: Sunday, Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. MST

Where: Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah

TV/Streaming: Pac-12 Mountain

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

RPI: Utah is No. 78 in RPI. Arizona is No. 99.

How to follow along

Follow us on X (Twitter) @AZDesertSwarm for all things Arizona Wildcats. For live posts of volleyball matches and news throughout the week, follow our deputy editor @KimDoss71.