Sept. 14, 2006
BY ERIK BOAL, Special to the Daily News
Julie Rubenstein was presented with the opportunity to be part of one the great dynasties in women's college volleyball.
Unfortunately for USC, her desire to add to the Rubenstein legacy at Pepperdine was more important.
Like several elite high school prospects across the country, Rubenstein received a recruiting letter from Trojans coach Mick Haley, who, at the time, could seemingly hand-pick his next class of recruits after leading USC to back-to-back NCAA national championships in 2002-03.
The Camarillo resident respectfully declined the offer to join the Women of Troy, passing up the chance to follow in the footsteps of dominant front-line attackers Keao Burdine, Bibiana Candelas, Katie Olsovsky, April Ross and Staci Venski. Instead, Rubenstein's heart told her to follow the same path as her parents, Jay and Garianne, and grandfather, Gary Colson, who coached Pepperdine's men's basketball team from 1968-79.
"I remember receiving the letter (from USC), but I never really considered it," said Rubenstein, who will lead 20th-ranked Pepperdine (4-4) into tonight's home match - televised live by ESPNU - against No. 9 USC (9-0) at 7:30 p.m. at Firestone Fieldhouse.
"Pepperdine has always been my ideal school. I couldn't see myself going anywhere else."
Long before she learned to hammer the ball inside the 10-foot line with consistency at Oaks Christian of Westlake Village, Rubenstein fell in love with Pepperdine.
Following a debut season in which she broke freshman program records for kills, kills per game, solo blocks and total points, in addition to receiving All-West Coast Conference honors, the level of admiration for Rubenstein from fans, teammates and coaches has only continued to increase in Malibu.
"She's just been playing incredible," Pepperdine coach Nina Matthies said. "Her maturity level has been remarkable now that she has a whole year behind her. She's become a really good leader in the gym."
The last time the Waves faced USC, Rubenstein led by example, recording a team-high 18 kills as part of a 30-28, 30-28, 30-23 sweep of the host Trojans in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"We're prepared for a battle," said Rubenstein, who is second on the team with 107 kills. "We know what it's like to play well against them and we want to draw on that experience."
In addition to the lessons learned from her previous two matches against USC, Rubenstein's freshman season offered valuable experiences that have helped her develop into a stronger player.
"Last year, she had a few tough stretches, but they were things that all freshman deal with," Matthies said. "It's hard to ask them to keep that level of intensity up every single day. We had some good talks in the spring and she put in some good work, both in the gym and in the weight room."
Rubenstein also benefited from almost two weeks of competition over the summer with the U.S. National Select team in Argentina.
The opportunity only added to the rapid learning curve for the 19-year-old, who is a potential All-America candidate this season.
"She is an All-American type player," said Hawaii coach Dave Shoji, after watching Rubenstein record a combined 37 kills in a pair of five-game losses to the Rainbow Wahine earlier this season. "She didn't hit for a real high percentage, but she was a factor serving and on defense."
Rubenstein's development as an all-around player has also boosted her confidence level, something that wavered on occasion during the tougher stretches of her freshman campaign.
"I've really been focusing on playing consistently at a high level and remaining confident," said Rubenstein, who led the Waves last season with 450 kills.
"I've learned that if I make a mistake, I need to put it behind me and move on. In the past, I'd dwell on it, but here there's no time to think about it."
Rubenstein is looking to erase the memory of Saturday's seven-kill effort in a three-game loss at No. 10 Cal, snapping a personal streak of 12 consecutive matches with double-figure kills.
"She's not worrying about every little thing this year because she knows what's ahead of her," Matthies said. "She's kept a really good demeanor."