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One and done at NCAA tourney

By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, December 8, 2003
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Volleyball's wild year ends with first-round loss to Wisconsin

The UA volleyball team complained about not being seeded in the NCAA Tournament and was looking forward to shocking the world by upsetting No. 1 Southern California in the Sweet 16.

But first, the Wildcats had to back up their talk and get past their first-round foe.

They didn't.

The No. 22 Arizona volleyball team (17-15) was eliminated from the postseason by Wisconsin (22-11) Friday, losing 3-1 during first round action. Game scores were 24-30, 30-25, 30-32 and 26-30.

UA head coach Dave Rubio said that, while the loss wasn't shocking since the Wildcats struggled at the end of the season, it still hurt.

"I think the team was definitely disappointed," Rubio said. "Any time you lose in the first round, you feel somewhat unfulfilled."

Arizona's string of 20-win seasons that began in 1996 was snapped, along with its streak of four Sweet 16s in a row and three consecutive Elite Eight appearances. In the last four NCAA tournaments, the UA was 12-3, last losing in the first round to Oral Roberts in 1997.

Rubio said the reason for the Wildcats' prior tournament success was his attempts to get the team to peak at tournament time. But in order to qualify after the team's 0-5 start in Pacific 10 Conference play, Rubio was forced to make sure his team hit its stride earlier than usual.

"I hate making excuses, but we put so much into making the playoffs in the second half (of the season)," Rubio said. "I think we all just believed it was over. I just feel like it was a little too much for us."

Rubio said his team didn't overlook the Badgers, who were downed by No. 24 Texas A&M (23-9), host of the tournament subregional, 30-22, 30-24 and 30-18 on Saturday.

"You don't overlook a team like Wisconsin. If anything, we were disappointed to be playing them so early," Rubio said. "It was unfair for us and them to be playing the first round. It's more like a third- or fourth-round match. We just had not been playing well."

Just like the rest of the season, in which the Wildcats were consistently inconsistent, Arizona had four players in double digit kills, but picked up 30 attack errors, compared to the Badgers' 17.

The Badgers had superior numbers to the Wildcats, led by Wisconsin sophomore middle blocker Shelia Shaw's 18 kills to go with a .485 hitting percentage, along with junior outside hitter Aubrey Meierotto's 17 kills and .457 hitting percentage. UW hit .295, compared to the UA's .199. The Badgers hit .415 in game one and .341 in game four.

Sophomore outside hitter Kim Glass had 14 digs and a match-high 20 kills for Arizona, pushing her UA single-season record of matches with 20-plus kills to 18. Glass had 10 attack errors, however, hit just .143 and had four of the UA's 12 service errors.

Sophomore middle blocker Bre Ladd had 10 kills but hit .167, while sophomore outside hitter Jennifer Abernathy had 11 kills but hit just .188. Junior libero Kelli Mulvany led the team in digs with 16, four shy of the match high.

Junior middle blocker Jolene Killough had a career-high 16 kills on 25 swings with one error for a .600 hitting percentage, and had a match-high four block assists. Killough and the UA's only senior, setter Kelly Griffin-Halfaker, were two of the Wildcats' few bright spots.

Griffin-Halfaker, who played sparingly after losing her starting job to true freshman Stephanie Butkus, had 14 assists in three games in her final collegiate match, but nearly saved the UA's season. Rubio said her match-high four service aces during a 7-0 run was the reason the Wildcats won the second game of the match.

"I'm glad she was able to go out the way she did," Rubio said.

All five of the other Pac-10 teams that qualified for the tournament advanced to the Sweet 16. None of them lost a single game.

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