Volleyball to battle Wisconsin in NCAAs

By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, December 1, 2003

The UA volleyball team's road to its second Final Four in three years will be a tough one, with a likely match with No. 1 Southern California in the Sweet 16 looming large.

As expected, No. 21 Arizona (17-14, 10-8 Pacific 10 Conference) was among the 33 at-large bids for the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats will face Wisconsin (21-10) in the first round, with the winner of the match facing sub-regional host and No. 16 seed Texas A&M (21-9) or Nicholls State (18-14).

The Colonels are champions of the Southland Conference, the Aggies were third place in the Big 12 Conference and ranked No. 24, and the Badgers were fourth in the Big 10 Conference. Should the UA advance to its fifth Sweet 16, the road to its fourth straight Elite Eight will not be easy with the top seeded Trojans (29-0) in the way.

"I don't have any great thoughts, considering a few weeks ago we were just hoping to get into the NCAAs," said UA head coach Dave Rubio, who has led Arizona to the tourney in 10 of his 12 seasons. "I think that we're just happy to be in the tournament. We'll just take it one match at a time. I hate to be so clichˇ, but in the tournament, that's the way it is."

"I think that we have a good shot still," said sophomore outside hitter Kim Glass. "I think a lot of people aren't going to expect us to have a positive outcome after this is all over, but I think we're going to go farther than anyone expects and we're going to surprise a lot of people."

The UA was swept by No. 22 UC Santa Barbara (19-8), 30-21, 30-25, 30-24, to close out the regular season Saturday. The loss ended the Wildcats' season-high five-match win streak.

"You'll have to ask (the players), but I think it affected us," Rubio said of the loss to the Gauchos. "I think if we would have won, (the tournament pairings) would have been different."

The loss figured to hurt the Wildcats a lot since Texas A&M, the lowest-seeded team to host a game, will limp into the postseason after losing two of its final three matches. Similarly, the Badgers have also struggled of late. Wisconsin has lost five of its last 10 and four of its last seven.

"They have a good tradition. They've been in the Final Four also," said Rubio about the Badgers. "They're a young team just like we are. I think it's a pretty competitive first-round matchup."

The tournament appearance is the UA's 19th, the 10th most in NCAA history and the Wildcats' eighth in a row. Arizona is 12-3 in its last four tournaments, though junior libero Kelli Mulvany and junior middle blocker Jolene Killough are the only players remaining from the Final Four team two years ago. The Wildcats have lost in the tourney to the eventual national champion or runner-up in the last five seasons. Should they advance to the Sweet 16 for the fifth year in a row, the Wildcats would travel to Lincoln, Neb. Curiously, the committee put top-seeded USC in a region that travels to Nebraska, while the No. 4 seed, Pepperdine (25-2), which Arizona beat, will stay in the Los Angeles area. Hometown Nebraska (26-4), the No. 9 seed, and UCLA (21-8), the No. 8 seed, lurk on the other side of the region as potential Elite Eight opponents for the Wildcats. The UA's tourney appearance comes after the team opened the Pac-10 season 0-5. But the Wildcats rebounded to finish 10-8 in what is widely considered the nations' top conference. The Pac-10 boasts five other teams in this year's tournament.

"It's a relief knowing for sure we're in and knowing our bracket," said sophomore middle blocker Bre Ladd.