Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA helped by consistent play in all areas
The Arizona volleyball team will be trying to advance past the "Sweet 16" for the first time in school history, when it takes on BYU this weekend in Lincoln, Neb.
The second seeded Wildcats (25-4 overall) defeated the No. 3 seed Cougars earlier in the season, 3-1.
"Our previous match will not play a factor," UA head coach David Rubio said. "It will ,though, allow us to feel more comfortable, because we know what type of team BYU is. It...is a brand new season, and the team that executes the best will win."
With the team attempting to make the Final Four for the first time, the Wildcats must continue to excel in all facets of its game to advance beyond the round of 16.
"We need to continue to serve and pass well to be successful," Rubio said. "Those are the two biggest variables for us."
For junior outside hitter Jill Talbot, the season has almost been too good to be true.
"We are living out our dream right now, and being a part of this team has just been amazing," Talbot said. "This season will always stick out in my eyes. It has been amazing to be part of this team and to represent UA in this way."
With the Wildcats still participating in the 2000 NCAA Tournament, the Arizona Daily Wildcat has taken the liberty of breaking down No. 5 Arizona.
Rubio led the Wildcats to a 27-4 overall and 16-2 Pac-10 record and the team's first ever Pac-10 title.
As UA's head coach, Rubio has faced adversity this season as sophomore middle blocker Stefani Saragosa and senior defensive specialist Elvina Clark each were injured during critical stages of the season. However, Rubio managed to keep the team on track en route to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"Dave is just amazing," sophomore outside hitter Lisa Rutledge said. "He has helped me make great strides in my game since I have been at Arizona."
For the first time, Arizona is in a position to reach the Final Four and possibly bring home the school's first ever volleyball national championship.
The recipient of the 2000 Pac-10 Player of the Year Award, junior Dana Burkholder is considered to be one of the nation's top setters.
Burkholder finished the season with a 13.45 set per game average, which ranks 18th in the country.
"A setter is the person on the court that leads the team and gets the team going," Rutledge said "The setter is the player that won't let the team down."
Rubio said that Burkholder is involved in every play, which makes her a vital part of the UA success. Burkholder's backup, junior Lauren Benward, has made significant strides under the Burkholder's tutelage.
The Wildcat middle attack is led by senior Marisa DaLee and Saragosa, and currently tops the team in hitting percentage and blocks per game.
DaLee finished the season as the team's leading hitter as well as the nation's fifth leading attacker, posting a .432 hitting percentage.
DaLee was second on the team with a 1.14 blocks per game average en route to her third-straight first-team All-Pac-10 honors.
Saragosa ended the season with a .362 hitting percentage and a 1.18 block per game average, which led the team.
"We would not be as good of a team if it was not for the play of our middles," Burkholder said. "Marisa is very consistent, and Erin and Shannon did a great job filling in for Stefani during the season."
The Wildcats were led by the trio of senior Allison Napier, Talbot and Rutledge this season.
Napier led the Wildcats with 409 kills to go with a 3.97 hitting percentage.
The Pac-10 awarded Napier for her play as an All-Pac-10 first -team honoree.
Rutledge and Talbot were All-Pac-10 honorable mention honorees.
Rutledge finished the season with 325 kills, which was good for third on team.
Talbot was the model of consistency for the Wildcats, as she finished third on the team with a .359 hitting percentage.
"I think our team is extremely fortunate because we are so deep at that position," Talbot said. "I think when they go up and crush the ball, it helps open up the whole court, and they have done such an awesome job."
Brian Penso can be reached at email@example.com.