UA Volleyball has 1st practice of season; expecting big things - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

UA Volleyball has 1st practice of season; expecting big things

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Coach Dave Rubio and the Arizona Wildcat volleyball team are gearing up for the upcoming season.  The Wildcats had their first practice of the season on Wednesday.   The Wildcat volleyball team was very young last season. However, this year, Arizona is expected to be one of the more veteran squads in the Pac-12.  Every single starter is back on the 2018 squad.   

Here's more from Arizona Athletics:

With 16 days remaining prior to Arizona volleyball's season-opening doubleheader in Sacramento, California on Aug. 24, the Wildcats took the floor to officially kick off 2018 fall camp.

"It's always good to get back out there," said Arizona head coach Dave Rubio, who enters his 27th year at Arizona this season.

Today's training included a morning and afternoon session in Richard Jefferson Gymnasium, the first of nine "double days" for the Wildcats.

"Today's about getting back into the swing of things," said Rubio. "But it's a little bit different this year than it's been in the past. We're going to do a lot of sixes right off the bat. I need to figure out who can play where and who's going to play where, so we're going to ramp it up right away and play a lot of sixes, which is unusual for us."

Arizona returns all six starters and 12 total players from an 11-win team a season ago when the Wildcats were one of the nation's youngest teams. Those 12 returners are joined by eight newcomers -- seven freshmen and one junior transfer. 

"I'm optimistic heading into this year," said Rubio. "With the players we've got coming back I know we're going to be able to be competitive in every match. We're going to have depth and some experience this year; experience is very important in our sport."

Three seniors -- outside hitter Kendra Dahlke (Bonall, Calif.), setter Mackenzie Hernandez (Bakersfield, Calif.) and defensive specialist Victoria Svorinic (Scottsale, Ariz.) -- officially began their senior season on Wednesday. Dahlke, who led Arizona in kills in each of the last two seasons, enters her senior year just 79 kills shy of 1,000 for her career and 268 shy of 10th place in UA history for kills in a career (10. Jennifer Abernathy - 1,189 / 2002-05).

Four juniors -- middle blocker Devyn Cross (Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.), libero Makenna Martin (Gilbert, Ariz.), setter Julia Patterson (Los Alamitos, Calif.) and libero/defensive specialist Emi Pua'a (Honolulu, Hawaii) -- are now upperclassmen. The three returners, Cross, Martin and Patterson were all starters for Arizona a year ago, while Pua'a was 17th in JUCO in digs/set last season at Iowa Western. In her first season as Arizona's starting setter, Patterson finished fifth in the Pac-12, averaging 10.14 assists/set while Cross led the team in blocks (0.99/set) and Martin led the Wildcats in digs (2.87/set).

Six sophomores -- middle blocker Candice Denny (Saratoga, Calif.), defensive specialist Gabriella Halcovich (Palm Springs, Calif.), middle blocker Shardonee Hayes (Columbus, Ga.), outside hitter Elizabeth Shelton (Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.), outside hitter Katie Smoot (San Mateo, Calif.) and outside hitter Paige Whipple (Salem, Ore.) -- are set for year two under Coach Rubio. Arizona's freshman class made a big impact in 2017, headlined by Shelton (20 starts), Whipple (18 starts), Denny (14 starts) and Smoot (3 starts), who all had more than 60 kills last year, marking the first time in school history that Arizona had four freshmen with 60-plus kills.

Seven freshmen -- middle blocker Zyonna Fellows (Tacoma, Wash.), setter Julia Handy (Hilmar, Calif.), outside hitter Whittnee Nihipali (Las Vegas, Nev.), defensive specialist Alexa Podraza (San Diego, Calif.), defensive specialist Klaire Thoman (Irvine, Calif.), defensive specialist Malina Kalei Ua (Long Beach, Calif.) and defensive specialist Erin Williamson (Atlanta, Ga.) -- all had their first taste of collegiate volleyball action on Wednesday. The newcomers are highlighted by Nihipali, the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year.

Arizona opens the season in two weeks at the Hornet Invitational in Sacramento State. UA opens against CSUN (10 a.m.) and Utah State (5 p.m.) in a twin bill on Friday, Aug. 24 before taking on the host Hornets on Saturday, Aug. 25. The following weekend, the Cats will welcome Lipcomb, San Diego State and Pacific for the home-opening Wildcat Classic (8/31-9/1), the first of two tournaments UA will host this season. 

For more information on tickets, visit www.arizonawildcats.com/VB. Build your best game day experience at Arizona Volleyball and visit the Arizona Volleyball Game Day Central page! Be sure to follow the team on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with team.

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