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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Young volleyball team has high hopes for ’07

    Junior libero Katie Jackels sets the ball in Arizonas loss to then-No. 6 Washington Oct. 20 in McKale Center. The Wildcats failed to reach the NCAA Tournament this season after doing so the past 10 years.
    Junior libero Katie Jackels sets the ball in Arizona’s loss to then-No. 6 Washington Oct. 20 in McKale Center. The Wildcats failed to reach the NCAA Tournament this season after doing so the past 10 years.

    The postseason has been something that Arizona volleyball teams have grown accustomed to participating in year after year, but this season turned out to be a different story.

    After making the NCAA Tournament in each of the last 10 seasons, including a trip to the Elite Eight last year, the Wildcats finished this season in ninth place in the Pacific 10 Conference and 13-16 overall.

    “”We certainly had pretty high expectations, as I think most teams do, heading into this year,”” said Arizona head coach Dave Rubio. “”Despite our youth and our inexperience, we felt that we were going to be able to overcome some of those factors with time.””

    But then the Wildcats suffered a blow far worse than any loss after senior middle blocker and team captain Kristina Baum tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus Sept. 1 against Butler.

    As the centerpiece of the team, bringing experience to leadership to the young squad, Rubio said the loss of Baum was a huge setback to the season.

    “”It’s hard to imagine that one person makes that big of a difference, but in this particular situation, it made a huge difference for us,”” Rubio said. “”It put us in the situation where we had to rely on too many young players, who at the time just weren’t ready to step in and really compete at a level that was going to put us in the situation to win night after night.””

    Baum will probably return next season after a medical redshirt, and sophomore outside hitter Brooke Buringrud said it is important for the team to continue working hard in preparation for next season immediately.

    “”We aren’t done,”” Buringrud said. “”We already have individual practice this week just to start touching balls and start getting better for next year.””

    “”This spring is vital for a lot of us because a lot of us are young,”” she added. “”Getting stronger and learning the game more is really important, and I am really looking forward to us getting better.””

    Turning to the younger players on the team might not have been such a bad thing after all, as Rubio said their development is crucial to the team’s future.

    Though the team loses one senior in setter Stephanie Butkus, it will return many young players who gained much experience over the course of the season.

    “”You have to have talent to be successful at the top-10 (national) level, and we have it,”” Rubio said. “”The talent needs to be developed and gain experience, and that is what happened this year.””

    Freshman outside hitter Whitney Dosty, Arizona’s highly touted recruit out of Tucson Salpointe Catholic High School, finished the year second on the team with 369 kills, averaging 3.39 per game, behind only Buringrud’s 384 kills.

    Rubio said freshman opposite hitter Jacy Norton, who earned All-Freshman honorable mention honors, was also a much-improved player with a bright future after she finished the season with 157 kills on a .251 hitting percentage.

    “”We had to step up whether we wanted to or not and accept a bigger role, and I think the young players did a great job with accepting that,”” Dosty said.

    Said junior middle blocker Dominique Lamb: “”I think they did a great job of stepping in there, giving it all they got. …The first year is a tough year, but I definitely think they gained a lot of experience heading into next season.””

    Despite the fact that the team will not be taking part in the NCAA Tournament this year, Rubio said his team is in a good position to be contenders next season.

    “”We feel like we put ourselves in the position to not only be where we were in the past but to exceed that level in the years to come,”” Rubio said. “”We want to get back to the Final Four and ultimately be in the game to win a national championship, and we feel like the players in the program have demonstrated the type of character the team needs to have in order to achieve those goals.””

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