Optimism is high for the Wildcat volleyball team heading into the 2005 season. With five returning starters and the addition of several newcomers who could make an immediate impact, Head Coach David Rubio stands to field his deepest, most experienced team in the last four years.
“Given our tradition, every year, if we’re able to put our best team on the floor, we have a chance at the Final Four and winning a national championship,” Rubio explains. “This year is no different.”
Leading the way for the Wildcats in 2005 will be a trio of seniors with numerous accolades. Kim Glass, a two-time All-American, returns after undergoing shoulder surgery in the off-season. She missed the first 10 matches last year and was thus not eligible for all-region and All-America honors. She was, however, named to the All-Pac-10 squad for the third year in a row.
“If Kim is in the right place emotionally and physically to return to All-America form, we could have a great year,” Rubio claims.
Jennifer Abernathy, who battled shins splints all last season, is also of vital importance to the team’s success. The outside hitter showed signs of greatness last year, earning Wildcat Classic MVP and Pac-10 Player of the Week honors early in the season.
Rounding out the group is Bre Ladd, an honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick last season. The Tucson native, who has spent the last three seasons as a middle blocker, will also play outside hitter this year.
“Those three seniors will be relied on not only as captains, but as leaders,” Rubio says. “We need all three of them to have All-American type of years in order for us to make it deep into the postseason. They will set the tone for our success throughout the year.”
In addition to the core of returners, Rubio has added eight newcomers for a roster of 19 players, his biggest ever. “It will be nice to have depth at every position,” he notes.
Last season, Arizona was plagued with injuries and thus didn’t reach its full potential. Should the Wildcats remain healthy this year, Rubio believes they could make a run deep in the NCAA Tournament. “The most concerning matter will be health,” he says. ”Assuming health issues are kept at bay, we should have a fine year.”
Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2005 Wildcats.
With two returners and a transfer, Arizona has good depth and experience at the setter position. “We’re the strongest at this position as we’ve been in the last few years,” Rubio notes.
Leading the group is junior Stephanie Butkus, who has been the starter in each of the last two years. “Steph has a better understanding of how to tactically run our system,” Rubio says. “Her presence on the floor will provide good leadership for the team. She is stable and has a calming effect on the team.”
Also returning is sophomore Amy Dyck, who saw limited action last season, but should challenge for the starting spot. “Amy played catch up as a freshman,” Rubio explains. “I really feel she’ll hit her stride as a sophomore. There’s a possibility she will play opposite, depending on her setting and the team’s passing.
Joining the group is sophomore Brittany Esser, who transferred to Arizona from Tulane and gives the Wildcats added depth. “I feel fortunate to have another setter with Division I experience,” Rubio says. “She’ll give us insurance should we move Amy to opposite.”
The Wildcats are stacked at the outside hitter position. In addition to Glass and Abernathy, Ladd and junior Kristina Baum have been moved from middle blocker. Arizona also welcomes Brooke Buringrud, a Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 pick, to the position.
“With the addition of Brooke and the possibility of Bre and Kristina going left or right, we will have much-needed depth at the pins,” Rubio notes. “In order for us to succeed, the position is of vital importance.
Glass spent the off-season rehabbing her shoulder after surgery. “The hope is that she’ll be at full strength by the start of the season,” Rubio says. “She is one of the elite players in the country who can compete at the highest level.”
Rubio is also looking for a breakthrough season from Abernathy. “Jen is on the brink of an exceptional year,” he claims. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that she stays healthy.”
Ladd will make the switch to outside hitter after making her way into the Arizona record books in several blocking categories. “For the last three years, Bre has worked hard, showed up every night, and not received much recognition,” Rubio explains. “Her play has developed to a level where she deserves to play all around. Look for her to be an all-conference and All-America candidate.”
Buringrud, a two-time California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Player of the Year, will also see playing time. “I’m really excited about Brooke,” Rubio says. “She comes with great experience at a high level competing in Junior Olympics. She has great potential; she needs to gain strength and endurance.”
In addition, the team welcomes Tucson native Marti Larriva, a three-time all-region pick at Canyon del Oro High School. “I feel very fortunate to get a player of her caliber to walk on,” Rubio says. “She is a wonderful addition to the team.”
Due to the movement of Ladd and Baum to outside hitter, look for Dominique Lamb to anchor the middle blocking position. The sophomore spent nine days training with USA Volleyball Women’s National A2 Group in May. “Dominique had a great experience with USA Volleyball over the summer,” Rubio says. “Her skills continue to improve and she has the opportunity to become extremely dominant. She works hard and is very coachable.”
Sophomore Enobong Ibok and senior Angie Ayers also return. Ibok missed most of last year with a knee injury, while Ayers has missed each of the last two seasons with ACL tears.
“Enobong has improved, but her health is a big issue,” Rubio notes. “We need to keep her healthy so she can contribute when necessary. Angie will give us depth since we have multiple players playing other positions.”
Ladd, Baum and Dyck join freshman Randy Goodenough to form the group of opposites. “This is the first time since 2001 that we have potential for legitimate offense at this position,” Rubio explains. “Any one of the four players could make an impact. I’m excited that our offense will have more variety because the opposites can terminate when set.”
Dyck may or may not be used at the position, depending on the situation at setter. “Amy has terrific talent,” Rubio says.
Goodenough, the No. 23 selection in the Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 and an American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) High School All-American, could also see playing time. “Randy is a special athlete, especially being left-handed,” Rubio claims. “Her biggest challenge will be adjusting to the intensity and competitiveness of practice. How she adapts will determine how much she plays. Look for her to be a six-rotation player in the future.”
Rubio has a wealth of depth at libero as there are six players at the position, three of whom will likely battle for the starting nod. “I felt after last year that the position we needed to replaced the most was libero,” he says. “I recruited several players that can come in and make up for the huge loss of Kelli Mulvany. The best passers will play.”
Transfer Katie Jackels comes to Arizona after a year at Golden West College. “Katie will impact us immediately,” Rubio says. “She has shown the ability to compete at this level. I really like her athleticism.”
Also new to the team is freshman Brittany Leonard, who was ranked as the second-best libero in the nation by prepvolleyball.com. “Brittany can play defense and pass well,” Rubio notes. “I really like her confidence.”
Sophomore Krista Chin rounds out the group of possible starters. “Krista has worked extremely hard in serve receive and I’m looking forward to seeing how she’s progressed,” Rubio says. “She plays exceptional defense. If her serve receive has caught up, we have something special.”
Emily Harper, Audrey Bockerstette and Kim Nash make up the rest of the libero corps. “Emily has improved and will be a solid player,” Rubio says. “Audrey is an exceptionally hard worker. Kim is a terrific all-around player with a great feel for the game.”
As always, Arizona will face a tough schedule in 2005. Included on the slate are 14 matches against teams that participated in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will also face seven teams (Stanford, Washington, USC, UCLA, Georgia Tech, California and UC Santa Barbara) that were ranked in the Top 25 in the final USA Today/CSTV Coaches Poll.
The Pac-10 schedule will again be grueling as the conference continues to show its dominance. Last year, six Pac-10 teams competed in the NCAA Tournament and all six advanced to the second round. Four teams advanced to the Elite Eight, while three of the four teams in the Final Four hailed from the Pac-10. Stanford claimed its sixth national championship with a sweep of Minnesota. It was the fourth year in a row that a Pac-10 team won the national title.
"Competing in the Pac-10 prepares us to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament," Rubio says.