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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

COMIC: Rat’s Nest #3
Olivia MoreyFebruary 28, 2024

    Volleyball to face 2 top-five teams

    UA opposite hitter Randy Goodenough (17) gets stuffed by a pair of Stanford blockers in last years 3-0 Cardinal win. The Wildcats main goal this weekend is to stop Foluke Akinradewo (16), last years Pac-10 Player of the Year.
    UA opposite hitter Randy Goodenough (17) gets stuffed by a pair of Stanford blockers in last year’s 3-0 Cardinal win. The Wildcats’ main goal this weekend is to stop Foluke Akinradewo (16), last year’s Pac-10 Player of the Year.

    It’s hard enough playing one top-5 team in a weekend.

    The Arizona volleyball team is on the road for the second straight weekend and will stop in the Bay Area tonight to play No. 4 Stanford (13-2, 4-0) at 7. The squad will then trek out to No. 5 California (14-1, 4-0) Saturday at the same time.

    As coaches will say, a team’s performance shouldn’t be affected by the rank of an opponent. But that doesn’t mean the players can’t recognize or talk about it.

    “”Stanford is really ridiculously good,”” said UA junior Jacy Norton. “”Foluke (Akinradewo) was (Pac-10) Player of the Year last year. She jumps out of the gym and whenever they’re in trouble, they always go to her. So our biggest job is going to be to shut her down.””

    Sophomore middle blocker Stephanie Snow didn’t see the court too often last year as a freshman, but said she definitely remembers – or is still scarred from – her Cardinal match experience.

    “”Last year, Jacy was playing (in the middle) at Stanford . . . and there was one rotation where (UA head coach Dave Rubio) subbed Jacy out to talk to her, so I was in for one point,”” Snow said. “”Of course, I’m standing in the middle when they set (Akinradewo). The ball hit the ground before I even jumped, and I was like, ‘Ah!’ and then they called a sub and Jacy was back in . . . but I was terrified.””

    The ball that Akinradewo, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker, killed was a quick set behind the setter, or an “”A.””

    Most middles hit that kind of set to zone 1 – which, as the attacker, is in the back left area on the court – because it’s the body’s natural arm swing and the quickest kill.

    “”She jumps so high that she hits to zone 5 (the back right corner),”” Norton said. “”She cuts it back on an A – it’s absolutely ridiculous. The only other person I’ve seen do that is (UA manager) Todd (Blankenship), and he’s a freak.””

    Blankenship has replicated Akinradewo’s speed, power and the type of shots she will make in tonight’s game. The team – front row players in particular – have been working on putting up a strong block against her replica.

    “”Foluke is a terrific player,”” Rubio said of the senior Cardinal. “”She was a heartbeat away from making the Olympic Team; so was (senior outside hitter) Cynthia Barboza. They all have a terrific volleyball resume. They’re very talented and very good.””

    Regardless of what happens in tonight’s game, the Wildcats will be forced to forget about it and turn their heads to Saturday’s match against California – a team the players have yet to scout and prepare for.

    Snow said the Wildcats have been practicing all week in preparation for Stanford, and the knowledge her team has on Cal will be purely based off watching film, which seemed completely normal to her.

    “”As far as (scouting) goes, Stanford is going to be our hardest competitor this weekend, so if we can get ready for them, Cal should be around the same,”” Snow said. “”They might not be the same, but it’s not going to get harder.””

    Snow added that the adjustments will be slight. For example, moving the block a step to the right or a step to the left. Other than that, she said the teams should be close to the same.

    When asked if she knew much about the Cal team, Norton’s response was pretty vague, with few memories from last year.

    The Bears’ pin players were their strongest points in their last encounter. Senior outside hitter Am’ra Solomon adds fire to the intensity on the squad, Norton said.

    “”She was the big momentum for their team last year,”” Norton added. “”Pretty much the life and soul of their team.””

    Rubio made it clear he was aware of the talent on both of the Wildcats’ opponents this weekend, but he didn’t think it was a reason to do anything differently or to get antsy.

    “”I don’t think it matters who we play. We know that each team in the conference is very talented,”” the head coach said. “”They’re all very good whether it’s Stanford, Cal, Oregon or Oregon State, UCLA or USC. It’s a gauntlet however you look at it.””

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