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Friday November 17, 2000

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1st ever conference title within reach for Wildcats

Headline Photo

By Brian Penso

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Three seniors possibly playing in their last home match

With a win tomorrow against in-state rival Arizona State, the UA women's volleyball team will claim at least a share of its first ever Pacific 10 Conference title.

No. 5 Arizona (23-3 overall, 15-2 Pac-10) currently holds a half-game lead over third-ranked USC (21-2, 14-2).

Besides playing its rival for the conference title, Arizona's seniors - middle blocker Marisa DaLee, outside hitter Allison Napier and defensive specialist Elvina Clark - will possibly be playing their last match at McKale Center.

"It will be very emotional and exciting at the same time," DaLee said. "Its great to be playing my last regular season match versus ASU."

Head coach David Rubio has reiterated all season that preparing for the postseason is more important then worrying about a conference title.

Now that the Wildcats are so close to becoming conference champions, Rubio is excited that his players will have the opportunity to bring home the Wildcats' first title.

"Now that we are in position to be at least co-champions, it would be nice," Rubio said. "Our players would like to be conference champs."

ASU (17-10, 9-8) will be no easy task for Arizona, though.

In its first meeting of the year in Tempe, UA came back from a 2-0 game deficit to win the match, 3-2.

Ten of the last 13 matches between the two schools in Tucson have gone five games.

"This is a huge rivalry, which makes this a very exciting match," Rubio said. "They will definitely be upset minded."

The players realize they are going to have to come out and play their best if they expect to come away with a victory.

"This is going to be a big challenge for us," sophomore outside hitter Lisa Rutledge said. "ASU will be ready to make us fight due to their pride, but they also want to keep us from winning the Pac-10 title."

For the Wildcats to be playing at the top their game they will have to pass well and play good defense.

Arizona's defense will have its hands full with ASU senior outside hitter Amanda Burbridge, who is second in the Pac-10 behind UCLA's Kristee Porter with 537 kills.

Defensively, the Wildcats will be led by middle blocker Stefani Saragosa, who is second in the Pac-10 with a 1.20 block per game average.

"ASU is going to be tough," Saragosa said. "If we win this it will be a great stepping stone into the NCAA tournament."

Rubio said that while the match is going to be tough, it will be a good test for his team before heading into postseason play.

"ASU will probably bring the whole city of Phoenix," Rubio said. "Gloves will come off and it might get a little bloody."

Tomorrow's match starts at 7 p.m. in McKale Center.