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No. 8 volleyballers take on UCLA, USC

Josh Fields/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior middle blocker Bre Ladd guarded the net tightly during Arizona's win over Oregon in McKale Center on Sept. 24. The 14-2 Wildcats head to Southern California this weekend to face UCLA and USC.
By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 21, 2005
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The competition is not about to get any easier for the No. 8 Arizona volleyball team.

After defeating then-No. 3 Stanford in five games Oct. 13 and sweeping then-No. 13 California the day after, the Wildcats (14-2, 6-1 Pacific 10 Conference) must compete against No. 21 UCLA tonight at 7 in Los Angeles. Arizona takes on No. 19 Southern California tomorrow at 6 p.m.

After last week's consecutive victories, Arizona jumped up four spots in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. This marks the program's highest ranking since being selected No. 6 in the 2002 preseason poll.

The last time Arizona was ranked this high during a season was Dec. 3, 2001, when the Wildcats were No. 4.

"It helps us from a recruiting standpoint without question," said Arizona head volleyball coach Dave Rubio. "It's nice to be able to hang your hat on that, with the community and with the people that associate with the program."

"It's exciting, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything," said senior middle blocker Bre Ladd. "We just have to stay consistent. The rankings don't really play a part for me personally, or for anybody really, until (the) postseason comes on. That's when it really affects us in terms of seeding for the (NCAA) tournament. (But) it's exciting that we know that's where we belong. We know that we're a top-10 team."

Rubio said both UCLA (10-6, 3-4) and USC (8-7, 4-3) are in a rebuilding phase and use young athletes on the court.

"They've always matched up very well in the past," he said.

UCLA is led by freshmen outside hitter Kaitlin Sather, who averages 3.82 kills per game, and setter Nellie Spicer, who averages 11.98 assists per game.

"There's not a lot of experience on the team," Rubio said. "(But) they'll be very well prepared for us. I know (head coach) Andy (Banachowski), and I know that his group will be looking to play well and upset us."

Rubio said that despite USC's record, the Trojans are still a force to be reckoned with.

"The Trojans are still very good, even though they are not at quite the same level that they were a couple years ago when they won the National Championship and were so dominant," he said. "But they have a couple players still in that group that played on those national championship teams (who) are very, very physical."

USC middle blocker Bibiana Candelas and outside hitter Staci Venski average 4.38 and 4.08 kills per game, respectively.

"I think in the past USC has been the most similar to us," Ladd said. "They're a very physical team, they have some tall girls. They are a really good serving team. Just based on the past, they're just as physical as we are."

Both the Trojans and the Bruins went 1-1 last weekend, sweeping Washington State and losing in three games to No. 2 Washington.

Rubio said junior setter Stephanie Butkus, who injured her medial collateral ligament Sept. 8, will travel with the team and be used as a substitute if needed.

"I don't think she's 100 percent yet, but she's pretty close," he said. "So we'll get a chance to at least play her a little bit in certain situations. It gives us some latitude, a little bit of flexibility with her now being able to play a little bit."

Rubio added that it will be another week or two before Butkus is fully healthy and able to compete for a starting position.

"Right now, I'm just getting back into the swing of things," Butkus said. "I'd say I'd probably be 100 percent by the end of the first (half) of Pac-10 play and hopefully competing again for a starting spot in the second."

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