UA club team wins national championship
The UA men's volleyball team was able to continue its dominance over the club ranks and won the national championship at the club tournament in College Park, Md., Saturday.
Meeting Arizona in the finals was the team that ended their season last year, the defending national champions, Graceland (Iowa) College.
UA assistant coach Skip Greenberg was worried that the three earlier matches that day would fatigue the team.
"We looked really tired toward the end of the ASU game and Graceland had a relatively easy time against Utah Valley," Greenberg said. "But we peaked at the right time and played as well as I have seen all year."
Arizona took Graceland in straight sets 15-11, 15-13. Junior blocker Vince Rooney was named most valuable player of the tournament. Graduate students Brian Bowers and Steve Walker were named to the all-first team for the championships.
"Vince really stepped up and had an awesome championship game," Greenberg said. "Brian played better than anyone the first two days, and Steve Walker is simply the best setter in club volleyball, hands down."
Other players who performed well included Kevin Jones, who nearly made the all-tournament team due to his outstanding play, and Ken Murcek, who was able to step in when starter Jeremy Koop suffered dehydration Saturday.
The Wildcats swept through every match of the tournament, with their only lost set coming on a forfeit as a result of miscommunication about the time of their first match Saturday. Friday matches were against Virginia and California to determine rankings in the Sweet Sixteen Saturday. UA defeated both teams in straight sets 15-7, 15-3 and 16-14, 15-10, giving the Wildcats the No. 1 ranking.
Saturday began with trouble, though, after the coaching staff missed a referee assignment and the team was penalized a set in their first match. They bounced back to defeat Florida 0-15, 15-8, 15-13, beating the team that defeated them two years ago in the same round. In the next round, UA faced Penn State and handled them 15-11 15-8.
That victory secured a spot in the final four, a level no previous UA men's volleyball team had attained. Arizona was set to face rival Arizona State, a team the Wildcats had beaten three times this season. Despite ASU playing its best match all season, UA defeated the Sun Devils 15-9, 15-11.
As for the forfeit against Florida, the UA coaching staff's scheduling book for the weekend apparently disappeared Friday evening, and no one remembered the team's commitment to referee an 8 a.m. game. When the team showed up for its 9:15 match, they were informed they were already down one set.
The team also suffered difficulties from being complacent once they had a big lead, Greenberg said.
"Against teams like Penn State and UC-Berkeley we were ahead big and we allowed them to get back in the game," he said.
The Wildcats played without the use of last year's tournament star Mike Stowell, who was hampered by an injured shoulder. Stowell came in during the championship match for a few blocking situations, but saw no playing time the rest of the tournament.
The team also suffered a little during the initial game on Thursday's 8 a.m. matchup, with most of the team still not acclimated to East Coast time.
The Wildcats should have high expectations for next season, when they will return all of their players for another go-around. The season was definitely a success for Greenberg, who has been here for all five years of the team's existence.
"Whatever adversity came their way this year, they rose to the occasion," he said.
Joshua McClain can be reached at Joshua.McClain@wildcat.arizona.edu