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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Big transition period awaits Arizona volleyball

CCourtesy of Arizona Athletics

Arizona volleyball player Penina Snuka jumps for the ball. Snuka will help anchor eight new freshman and many incoming transfers this season.

Arizona volleyball will feature a new look when it opens the season Friday evening against SMU in Dallas.

The Wildcats enter the 2015-2016 season in a rebuilding mode of sorts after the team’s top three leaders in kills all departed the program.

Madi Kingdon and Taylor Arizobal, the UA’s two most dangerous hitters last season, both graduated, while Ashley Harris left the program over the summer.

What’s remaining is a young, inexperienced group that will need to rely heavily on a few key newcomers, as well as first-team All-Pac-12 Conference setter Penina Snuka and libero Laura Larson.

“I’ll tell you that I think we’ve been training hard and we’re in a good place,” volleyball head coach Dave Rubio said at the team’s media presser on Tuesday. “I think until you wear our uniform and are representing Arizona, you’re really not sure what you’re going to get. My hope is that if they play like we’ve been practicing, then we’ll be okay.”

Rubio is understandably anxious for the start of the season given that a good portion of his starting lineup will be making their Wildcat debuts.

While Rubio expects all of the newcomers to go through the ebb and flow of playing for a new program, a few additions are joining Arizona with previous collegiate experience.

Rubio named transfers McKenna Painton, Nikki Attea and Mackeznie Kleespies as players that should contribute right away. Painton arrives from Cal State, Fullerton, while Attea and Kleespies played at West Virginia and James Madison, respectively.

“All three of those guys have been, I think, outstanding and will really make a difference for us this year,” Rubio said. “They’re giving us some age and some really high level execution, so my hope is that they carry that on [this weekend].”

Rubio also said that he expects freshman Kendra Dahlke to start this weekend. Dahlke, an outside hitter from Bonsall, Calif., enters the program with high expectations, as she was named the 2014 Junior Olympic Most Valuable Player.

In total, eight of Arizona’s 18 listed players are freshmen.

As for the Wildcats’ top returners, juniors Snuka and Larson will need to take more of a leadership role now that Kingdon and Arizobal are gone.

Snuka in particular is expected to be Arizona’s vocal leader on the court.

As setter, Snuka plays the volleyball version of a point guard; she’s the one who sets up offensive rallies and constantly communicates.

For the Wildcats to duplicate, or even expand the success of last year’s 24-win season, they’ll need to form the chemistry of a title-contending team, a role that falls largely on Snuka and the other returners.

And if that feels like too big a task for Rubio, he definitely isn’t showing it.

“Like I’ve said in the past, our goal every single year is to get to the Final Four and win a championship,” Rubio said.

“Some years you have better chances of doing that. We’ll see where we are with that particular goal, and hopefully we’ll be in a position where I feel like down the road we can still maintain something of that level.”

Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.

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