Dave Rubio turns to his bench.
In a pinch, when the Wildcats need a block, he calls out “Ashley!”
Outside hitter Ashley Harris emerges and runs by Rubio to take her place in front of the net, often to a few puzzled looks — in the stands, or even at the other side of the net.
“Ashley presents some things that people don’t normally see,” Rubio said, “You don’t normally see a 6-8 kid across the net from you.”
In Rubio’s 22 years at the helm, Harris is his tallest ever.
After a point, or two, Harris returns to the bench.
In a pinch, when the Wildcats need a strategically placed serve to the front of the defense, he calls out “Laura!”
Laura Larson, a libero, emerges. It’s less noticeable — she’s a full 14 inches shorter than Harris.
But Larson runs to the back line, and serves. On the return, if there is one, she digs.
“That’s one of my favorite things,” Larson said.
When the point is over, she returns to the bench.
Larson and Harris are freshmen, and they are the team’s specialists.
On a team with NCAA tournament aspirations — which will likely come to fruition after a weekend sweep of Utah and Colorado — Larson and Harris don’t need to start, or get all that much playing time.
But they are needed. Both will see the court this weekend, when the Wildcats visit Los Angeles. The UA will face USC tonight at 8 and UCLA on Sunday at 2 p.m.
“They both have played a nice role for us,” Rubio said. “If I had my choice, I would’ve redshirted (Harris), but I knew she was going to be somebody that would help us win matches, which she has done. Laura on the other hand, I knew she was going to help us immediately, and we needed her to play the role that she’s played.”
Here’s a closer look at the Wildcats’ freshman specialists.
Height: 5-6 Hometown: Lakeville, Minn.
Stats: 7 service aces, 12 assists, 1 kill and 71 digs in 89 sets
Before the UA: Won two state championships at Lakeville North High School, where she was also captain of the girls golf team.
She said it: “Serving is something I’ve really been working on this year, it’s nice to show what I’ve been working on.” — Larson
Coach’s take: “Laura is terrific server, a good passer for us. She’s gonna be a great player for us and we know that.” — Rubio
Height: 6-8 Hometown: Petaluma, Calif.
Position: Outside hitter
Stats: 7 kills, 7 digs and 20 blocks in 65 sets
Before the UA: Harris was named an Under Armour First-Team All-American. The Press Democrat named her the All-Empire Large School Volleyball Player of the Year. Harris’ parents both played Division I basketball — her mother at Hawaii, and her father at both Hawaii and San Francisco.
She said it: “Right now my strength is blocking, that’s what we’re working on and improving on. It’s where I can really specialize and help the team.” — Harris
Coach’s take: “She’s been struggling a little with her self confidence over the last couple of weeks, but she’s turning the corner now.” — Rubio