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Thursday November 30, 2000

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Arizona to begin title run tonight

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By Brian Penso

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Wildcats begin NCAA tournament versus Alabama A&M

The Arizona volleyball team will begin its run at an NCAA Championship tonight when they take on Alabama A&M in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats (25-4 overall, 16-2 Pacific 10 Conference) slipped to a No. 2 seed, due to a recent loss to No. 6 Colorado State.

UA's journey to a possible NCAA titles starts versus the Bulldogs (31-2 overall, 8-0 Southwestern Atlantic Conference), a team that earned an automatic bid into this year's tournament by winning the SWAC.

While the SWAC is historically a weaker conference than the Pac-10, Arizona players realize that they cannot overlook any team if they wish to fulfill its goal of making the school's first Final Four appearance.

"This time of year, we can not afford to lose or pass anybody up," senior outside hitter Allison Napier said. "We will definitely come out hard and play well."

Junior setter Dana Burkholder said that any team that makes it to the tournament can be a threat to the Wildcats' success.

"Any team on any given night can beat anyone," Burkholder said. "We are preparing for anything. It does not matter who is on the other side of the net. We just need to come out and play our game."

The No. 5 Wildcats will be led by a trio of first-team All-Pac-10 honorees - senior middle blocker Marisa DaLee, Napier and Burkholder.

DaLee finished the season as the nation's fifth-best hitter with a .422 hitting percentage. However, DaLee will likely meet her match against Alabama A&M's senior middle blocker DeAnna Hines, the top hitter in the country with a .461 hitting percentage.

Hines - the SWAC Volleyball Player of the Year - led the Bulldogs to an unblemished conference record and its first automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

Even though the Wildcats have three All-Pac-10 players, they also play a style of volleyball that is effective only if each player does their individual job on the court.

"It is going to have to be an all-around team effort if we are going to play our style of volleyball," Napier said.

As a team, the Bulldogs lead the nation in hitting with a .344 average.

The Wildcats offense is third in the nation with a .320 hitting percentage.

In order to counter Alabama A&M's offensive attack, UA head coach David Rubio will look for his team to continue to serve well, which he said will take the Alabama A&M out of its offensive rhythm.

"The biggest thing for us is to serve tough," he said. "If we do that, it should take them out of their offensive rhythm. We will be in good shape if we do that."

Besides being No. 1 in hitting percentage, the Bulldogs lead the nation in serving aces with a 2.37 ace-per-game average.

Brian Penso can be reached at