SAN DIEGO — The 5,100 seats at Jenny Craig Pavilion are blue.
Parts of the court, too.
And Saturday, Arizona wore blue jerseys, with red numbers.
But Candace Nicholson wore white — the starting libero always wears a different color.
After the match, though, she felt pretty blue.
The Wildcats’ season had just ended, as they were swept at the hands of San Diego 3-0 (25-14, 25-19, 25-22) in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
With that, the senior Nicholson’s volleyball career at the UA ended, too.
“It’s a tough loss,” she said, then paused. Took a deep breath.
“For me personally, it’s a weird feeling being done. It’s definitely real now.”
Nicholson’s career ended on a sour note, but her career certainly wasn’t sour. With 10 digs against the Toreros, Nicholson finished with 1,642 digs in four years — she’s the UA career record holder.
“She sacrificed a lot,” UA coach Dave Rubio said. “Physically, she’s been beat up since the day she’s been here, so she’s had to endure a lot of pain and rehab, so it’s to her credit that she’s able to step on the floor every match this season and at the level she’s played at.”
Friday, she got her first-ever NCAA tournament win, in a 3-0 sweep of New Mexico State. Last year Arizona missed the tournament, and in the two years before that, it was eliminated in the first round. Through all of that, Nicholson was a Wildcat constant, its four-year starting libero.
“We still accomplished a lot,” Nicholson said, “People doubted us, but we made it to the tournament, and made it past the first round, which says a lot.”
But Saturday, the Wildcats just couldn’t get Nicholson any more than that.
The match started close — 6-6 in the first set. But then the Toreros took off. Arizona only scored eight more points in losing the first set 25-14, with the Toreros ending on a 19-8 run.
From there, Arizona was never really able to regroup.
“I’m mad, and I’m frustrated,” Rubio said. “I felt like we had our chances, even though we lost all three I thought we had chances in every game. I don’t think we played poorly. They’re just a team that’s really good.”
For the season, Arizona finished with a 21-13 record, an improvement over last year’s 16-15 final mark.
Plus, the Wildcats will only lose two players from this year’s roster — Nicholson and outside hitter Shaquillah Torres, who has decided to cut her UA career short due to knee injury problems. Torres played briefly in all three sets Saturday, but didn’t record any stats.
Madi Kingdon, though, returns as a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate for 2014.
“I’m sad that we lost,” Kingdon said, “but I think it makes us want to work harder for next season.”
Saturday, in the second set, Kingdon almost single-handedly tried willing the Wildcats back in. It didn’t work, but in the process she joined a fairly exclusive UA club.
Coming in, she was seven kills from 500 in a season, something only accomplished by three other Wildcats.
She finished with 15 kills — and 10 digs — to end the season with 508. She’s only the fourth Wildcat to accomplish the single-season feat, joining Kim Glass (three times), Barb Bell (once) and Terry Lauchner (once).
Kingdon might finish her career next year at, or near, the top of a number of UA record lists.
But that’s next year.
This year, Nicholson is the one that finished at the top.
After the season-ending loss, she sat on a, fittingly, blue trainers table.
Her eyes watered up.
“Hopefully they remember me as a teammate that gave it my all,” she said, then paused.
She wiped a tear. Then, she smiled.
“I guess since I broke some records, I hope future liberos aspire to be like me,” she said. “That’s the legacy I hope I left behind.”
— Nicholson’s 1,642 career digs were 345 more than her closest competitor, Lauchner, who had 1,296 from 1987-90.
— There were a few noteworthy former Arizona Wildcats in the crowd at Jenny Craig. Dana Burkholder, the 2000 Pac-10 Player of the Year, was a setter for Arizona from 1998-2001. She’s the only Wildcat to ever win that award.
Jud Buechler, a former UA men’s basketball standout, was also in attendance.
— USD had a .377 hit percentage vs. the Wildcats. It was the highest percentage the UA gave up all season.