clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Arizona volleyball celebrates the past while working toward the future

Arizona volleyball players huddle together during a match against Oregon on Nov. 19, 2023 in McKale Center
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Former Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio said earlier this year that he has tried to stay out of the way during successor Rita Stubbs’ first season. He didn’t want to add to the pressure, so he has focused on working youth volleyball camps and with Athletes Unlimited. The program isn’t quite ready to let go of the past as they work towards the future.

Before facing Oregon in their next-to-last home match of the season, the locker room used by the indoor and beach volleyball programs was renamed the Rubio Family Locker Room. The honor was done at the request of long-time University of Arizona donors Thomas and Reenie Keating, whom Rubio and his wife Amanda have known for decades.

“Going back to our younger years, my mother had a beach house south of Santa Cruz, and we played a lot of volleyball,” Thomas Keating said. “From the time the kids were a little, we played each other. And so we’ve always had an affinity for volleyball. And we just got to know Dave and Amanda. They don’t live very far from us. And Dave’s a really cool guy. So is Amanda. And there was a connection. You know how people sometimes just feel a connection. And our name’s on a lot of places on this campus already, and we thought, why do we need to put our name here? Why not put Dave and Amanda? So that’s what we decided.”

Rubio and his family attended the ceremony along with the Keatings, Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke, and the members of both coaching staffs and the players from both the indoor and beach programs. Rubio was surprised by the addition of his family’s name and humble about his link to the program post-retirement.

“You know, it’s never been about that for me,” he said. “I’ve always said that the only thing I wanted when I was done was my name listed in the record book with the years I coached.”

The good feelings spilled over to the beginning of the match against Oregon, but the Wildcats couldn’t maintain them in a 3-0 (25-21, 25-14, 25-21) loss.

“We struggled in serve receive, and we’ve had predictable things that we needed to be able to do and we didn’t execute,” Stubbs said. “So we weren’t necessarily coachable in the first set. In the second set, we let go of the rope, and kind of came back and was better at it in the third set. And they’re more skilled than we are, so there were times where we did the right thing, but it just wasn’t enough.”

The Wildcats were led by Sofia Maldonado Diaz who rebounded from Friday evening’s tough outing against Oregon State. The senior had 14 kills on .278 hitting. She also had an ace and a block for 15.5 points.

“Sofia is gifted enough and tough enough mentally that she can withstand that...which is why she’s the type of kid you want on your team because of what she’s capable of,” Stubbs said.

For most of the match, Maldonado Diaz didn’t get much help from her fellow pins. Sophomore Jordan Wilson started to come on towards the end, though. Wilson ended with 10 kills on 23 swings and a .217 hitting percentage. She had five kills and one hitting error in the final set after ending the first two with a combined five kills and four hitting errors.

The only other players to hit in positive territory were setter Ana Heath (.250) and freshman middle blocker Journey Tucker (.500). It was Tucker’s first appearance in a few weeks. She has been day-to-day with medical issues.

Tucker’s return gave Wilson the opportunity to work on her leadership, as she spent time between points showing Tucker what was happening on the other side of the court. Depending on the decisions of Maldonado Diaz and fellow senior Jaelyn Hodge about returning for a fifth year, Wilson could be the most experienced pin on the roster next season. Stubbs has said that the team is using these last few matches as a way to set the tone for next season, and leadership on the court has been cited as a missing component several times over the course of the season.

“With Journey, I know that she’s newer to the game and she needs a little bit more guidance,” Wilson said. “So, I try to help she knows where to be and so she felt like she was comfortable on the court. And I just wanted to be able to give her that confidence.”

Oregon led in most statistical categories during the first set, but the score didn’t show that for most of it. Neither team led by more than two points until the Ducks went up 14-11. Even then, Arizona fought back to tie it at 19 apiece and again at 20. From there, Oregon did what a top 10 team should and closed it out on a 5-1 run.

After an easy second set, the Ducks had to battle Arizona at the end of the third to secure the sweep. Oregon led by as many as nine points, reaching that at the 14-5 mark in the third set. The Wildcats chipped away until the margin was just 22-19. They saved two set points before Mimi Colyer’s kill ended it.

Arizona falls to 8-21 on the season and 3-15 in Pac-12 play. The Wildcats go on the road to play Washington (15-14, 6-12 Pac-12) on Wednesday, Nov. 22. Like Arizona, the Huskies are in the first year with a new head coach and have not played up to the standards they are used to.

The team will finish out the season against Arizona State on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 5 p.m. MST. It will be senior night as well as the second of the rivalry games. The Sun Devils (24-5, 13-5) swept the Wildcats to begin Pac-12 play and are having a surprising season in their first year under their new head coach.