TUCSON, Ariz. – After missing out on the NCAA Tournament in 2012 with one of the youngest teams in the country, the Arizona volleyball worked hard and put together one of the most successful seasons in recent years with a 21-13 overall record and a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2013.
The Wildcats opened the season with a 10-2 record in non-conference play, with their only losses coming at No. 10 Hawaii and at home to No. 20 Kansas. The 10 non-conference wins were their most since the 2010 season, when they opened the year with 11 wins.
Head coach Dave Rubio earned his 400th career victory at Arizona when the Wildcats defeated Utah Valley to win the Arizona Desert Classic back on Sept. 7. Rubio already had the most victories in school history.
After getting off to a slow start in Pac-12 play with losses at Arizona State and at Cal, the Wildcats won five of their next six matches in league play. Included in that stretch run of wins were home victories against No. 21 Oregon and No. 1 USC. It was also the first time Arizona defeated a No. 1 team since Nov. 3, 1993 when it knocked off then unbeaten UCLA inside McKale Center. The sweep of USC was also the first time the Wildcats have ever swept a No. 1 team.
The Wildcats finished an even 10-10 in Pac-12 matches this season and earned their 25th all-time berth in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona proved to be one of the top defensive teams in the Pac-12 as it finished the season ranked first in the league in digs and second in opponent hitting percentage.
McKale Center once again proved to be an excellent home court advantage for the Wildcats. Arizona was a stellar 16-3 on the season inside McKale, dropping just one home non-conference match and just two home Pac-12 matches. The Cats are 297-144 all-time inside the building. UA also averaged more than 1,000 fans per match for the fifth straight season.
Arizona drew a familiar opponent in New Mexico State to open the NCAA Tournament in San Diego, Calif. The Wildcats who had never lost to NMSU in school history kept that streak alive with a first round sweep of the Aggies. The win was the first for Arizona in the NCAA Tournament since advancing to the Elite Eight in 2005.
The Wildcats moved on to face host and No. 9 overall seed San Diego in the second round. The Toreros proved to be a little too much on their home floor, defeating the Cats in three-sets.
Individually, junior outside hitter Madi Kingdon had a stellar season as she finished with 508 kills – the sixth most in Arizona single-season history. In addition, she now has 1,309 kills for her career – already sixth on the school’s all-time kills list with still another season to go. Kingdon was named AVCA All-Region and All-Pac-12 for her efforts. She earned Pac-12 Player of the Week on two occasions this season. Kingdon led the Pac-12 in points, while ranking third in kills and fourth in service aces for the season.
Meanwhile, Penina Snuka finished the season as the Pac-12 leader in double-doubles with 19 on the season. In addition, she dished out 1,196 assists (10.14 p/s), which ranked sixth in the league. She also added 339 digs, 60 kills and 37 blocks in her inaugural season. She was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team and also earned honorable mention AVCA All-Region honors. She was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week on two different occasions.
The team’s only four-year senior Candace Nicholson became the Arizona all-time leader in single-season and career digs. She closed out the season with 512 digs on the season – the only player in school history to ever record 500 digs in a season. Nicholson closed out her career with 1,642 digs – over 300 more than Terry Lauchner’s previous Arizona career record of 1,297. In the team’s regular season finale against rival Arizona State, Nicholson recorded a career-high 36 digs, just one shy of the school record for most digs in a match. For her efforts in the match, Nicholson was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, the first such award by a Wildcat since the award was created back in 2011.
Arizona looks to be in excellent shape for a big year in 2014 with all of its starters returning except for Nicholson. The Wildcats are expected to return 16 of its 18 roster members next year. Shaquillah Torres is the only other member of the squad that will not be back in 2014.
For continued coverage of Arizona Wildcat volleyball, visit ArizonaWildcats.com and be sure to follow the team on Twitter @ArizonaVBall.