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Volleyball hoping for payback against ASU

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Kim Glass spikes a ball earlier this year. Arizona plays host to rival Arizona State tomorrow.
By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 24, 2003

Losing to Arizona State is never a good thing for any Wildcat team.

But after blowing a 2-0 lead to the Sun Devils last month, the Arizona volleyball team stumbled to start the season and put itself in a difficult hole to climb out of.

Arizona (9-11, 3-6 Pacific 10 Conference) will seek to even the season series with the Sun Devils (8-10, 3-6 Pac-10) tomorrow at 7 p.m. in McKale Center. Last time the two teams met - in Tempe - ASU rallied from a 0-2 deficit, thanks to four Devils with double-digit kills.

The upset knocked the UA out of the top 25 for the first time in five years. Arizona was ranked for 83 consecutive polls before the loss.

Soon after, the Wildcats dropped matches to California and Stanford, bringing the team's Pac-10 losing streak to five games.

Head Coach Dave Rubio said that the team realizes how much the Wildcats need this match and said they don't need the extra motivation of beating their arch rival.

"I don't know if they need extra motivation, being the rival school or team that beat us last round," Rubio said. "Enough is at stake that they know they need to win."

Arizona's recent resurgence - where the Wildcats have won three of their last four Pac-10 matches - could be traced to the emergence of the UA's only senior, Kelly Griffin-Halfaker, at starting setter. But since true freshman Stephanie Butkus played during the latter part of Arizona's comeback against No. 2 Hawaii on Sunday, Rubio doesn't know who will start tomorrow.

"It may be a match-time decision," Rubio said.

Butkus came off the bench against the Rainbow Wahine to tally a team-high 47 assists. Griffin-Halfaker had 17, playing in four of five games.

"In Hawaii, (Butkus) set most of the third, fourth and fifth games. I think she's playing a lot better," Rubio said. "Her presence on the floor is much better too, I think."

Although the Sun Devils won the first match this season between the two teams, the Wildcats have owned their rivals of late, winning 11 of the last 15. Both schools agree that ASU leads the all-time series, but disagree on the margin. The Sun Devils lead 35-30 according to ASU records, while UA records give ASU a 33-31 advantage.

The Sun Devils are led by senior middle blocker Mandy Stephens, who sits fourth in the Pac-10 and sixth in the nation in hitting percentage. Junior Natalie Harris is fifth in the Pac-10 in kills, averaging 4.23 per game.

ASU was swept by the Pac-10's four California schools last week after beating Arizona, but rebounded against the Oregon schools. The Devils swept the Ducks but needed five games to dispatch Oregon State.

Rubio said he doesn't think ASU has changed much since they met at the end of September, but he believes they have played better of late.

"I'm watching them now and I don't think they've changed much," Rubio said. "I think right now they're playing some pretty good volleyball."

In its last match, ASU had one of its biggest crowds in years with 3,225. The Wildcats are hoping for a big crowd of their own tomorrow.

"We usually do get a big crowd for ASU, just because it's ASU," sophomore outside hitter Jennifer Abernathy said. "The crowd always brings us up a level, so hopefully we'll have a big crowd behind us."

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