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Rita Stubbs using all of her resources to help Arizona volleyball players find reasons to believe

Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics

Ask the Arizona volleyball players if they still believe they can reach their goals this season and the answer will likely be an emphatic yes. Watching the team play or talking to head coach Rita Stubbs tends to contradict that, though. Stubbs thinks the feelings of confidence have dried up.

The fear of making a mistake is paralyzing the team too often. That happened on several plays at California last weekend, especially in the first set when Arizona had a commanding lead. It led to a four-set loss and kept the Wildcats from getting their first Pac-12 win.

“We had a reenactment of that today in the gym, and I had to let them know that’s exactly what happened [at Cal],” Stubbs said. “You set the wrong person. That person was frustrated. Ball comes over—and I’m telling you, identical to Cal—it falls on the floor. And then I was like, ‘No, you need to understand that this is what’s going on. What are you saying to yourself right now? What did you do to contribute to the situation?’ But the difference is that in the game, you can’t stop it and bring them in and touch and feel them and do all the things that you need to do to get back.”

Because of the limited number of times Stubbs can bring the players in and discuss how things are starting to go sideways, those mistakes often snowball into runs for the opponent.

“It does because it’s one bad play,” Stubbs said. “And I could literally go back and just about every match we’ve played, had that play not happened we just spiral in a good way. But it’s always a bonehead play...and then it goes to another because they realize they did something...that wasn’t conducive to making the team better. And then it’s another.”

The question for Stubbs is how to stop it permanently. She’s working on that, but she knows she may not be able to do it alone. Since taking over as head coach at Arizona, she has said that she knows she needs to reach out and get help sometimes. Fortunately, she has that support at Arizona.

“I was talking to Chip Hale earlier this morning,” Stubbs said. “He’s like, ‘How’s it going?’ It’s going great, but it’s not. And they say, ‘Oh, hang in there,’ which is what everyone says. What else is there to say?”

She’s also reached out to current and former head coaches to ask them how to deal with the pressure.

“I’ve talked to Tommy [Lloyd], I’ve talked to Adia [Barnes], I’ve talked to Coach [Mike] Candrea,” Stubbs said. “I’m not so knowledgeable about it that I can’t hear and learn from others...And I’m not asking about the X’s and O’s. I don’t expect them to know that. But you think about the things that men’s basketball goes through, the pressure that they live under. Because if they just lose one game, the world’s coming to an end, whereas we’re at 10 [losses] now and haven’t won a game in conference and I’m like ready to jump off a cliff. For him, it’s that first game—or is it? What do you say? How do you get your kids to compete the entire time? Because we’re so close to great things happening.”

UCLA Bruins (9-5, 1-3 Pac-12) @ Arizona Wildcats (5-10, 0-4 Pac-12)

When: Friday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. MST

Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

TV/Streaming: The match will be televised on Pac-12 Arizona and Pac-12 Los Angeles. It can be streamed on the Pac-12 Now app or at Pac-12 Live.

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

Rankings: Neither team is ranked in the AVCA top 25. The Bruins on No. 41 in the RPI. The Wildcats are No. 79.

RV USC Women of Troy (10-4, 4-0 Pac-12) @ Arizona Wildcats (5-10, 0-4 Pac-12)

When: Sunday, Oct. 8 at 12 p.m. MST

Where: McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

TV/Streaming: Arizona Live Stream

Stats: Arizona Live Stats

Rankings: USC is second among teams on the “others receiving votes” list in the AVCA top 25. It is No. 43 in the RPI. Arizona is No. 79 according to the RPI.

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.