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Volleyball begins second home tourney today

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona freshman Kristina Baum attempts a return during the Wildcats' loss yesterday.
By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday September 12, 2003

Just one of three teams visiting for Arizona volleyball's second home tournament in as many weeks is ranked but that doesn't mean the Wildcats can overlook the rest of the field.

The No. 14 Wildcats (4-3) take on New Mexico State (4-2) today at 10 a.m., No. 11 UC Santa Barbara (2-2) at 7:30 p.m. and American University (2-4) on Saturday at noon in the Four Points University Plaza Arizona Invitational.

UCSB returns four starters from a 30-3 Sweet 16 team. Its match against the Wildcats will be head coach Kathy Gregory's 1,001st at the school.

Gaucho junior libero Kristin Nelson has an average of 4.77 digs per game this year, good enough for 10th-best in Division I.

"Santa Barbara's been perennially one of the best programs nationally for every year that Kathy's been there," said UA head coach Dave Rubio. "I think that they're a low-error team. They're not as physical as us but they have great passing, great defense, (and) they don't make a lot of mistakes."

Last weekend in the Stanford Invitational, UCSB fell to No. 3 Florida 30-23,30-28, 30-21 but rebounded with a sweep of San Diego. Freshman Olivia Waldowski earned all-tournament honors.

Like the Wildcats, made up of mostly sophomores and freshmen, UC Santa Barbara is young, with nine freshmen on the roster, but Rubio said the Gauchos don't make many mistakes.

"They're a team that's not going to beat themselves," he said "I think that's really a good team for us to play. Last weekend in the two matches that we lost, we were giving away points and ultimately, that cost us the match."

New Mexico State, fresh off a sweep of Texas Tech, returns eight starters from a 26-7 team last year. The Aggies, whom the UA is 10-0 against since 1977, are coached by Mike Jordan, who is 91-74 at NMSU.

Rubio believes the Aggies are primed for a big year and compared them to San Diego State, an up-and-coming team that handed the UA one of its two losses last weekend.

Mark It

Arizona vs. Miami
Tonight, 7:30 p.m.

Arizona vs. Rhode Island
Tomorrow, noon

"Mike Jordan's been there five years, and all those players are all his and they have a very solid team," Rubio said. "They're not overpowering, a lot like San Diego State. They know how to play the game and they know his system, so we need to make sure we're ready to play at 10 in the morning."

American comes to the tournament as two-time defending Patriot League champions, returning four starters from a team that made the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The Eagles are led by Czech Republic native Karla Kucerkova, a senior outside hitter who was the 2001 and 2002 Patriot League player of the year. Last week, Kucerkova was named to the Akron Zips Classic All-Tournament Team after posting a career-high 33 kills against Akron. She was also named to the Florida Gators Classic all-tournament team a week earlier.

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