Tourney pits UA against Aggies in first round
As the No. 6 Arizona volleyball team treks to Salt Lake City for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed, here's a breakdown of the Wildcats' three potential opponents.
Utah State Aggies
(tomorrow, 7 p.m.)
Location: Logan, Utah
Record: 21-12, 11-5 Western Athletic Conference
Breakdown: Senior opposite hitter Zuzana Cernianska and senior middle blocker Ingrid Roth were named to the All-WAC team.
Cernianska leads USU with 4.57 kills per game and 2.48 digs per game, and Roth sports a .329 hitting percentage with 2.40 kills and 1.12 blocks per game.
The Wildcats (24-5, 14-4 Pacific 10 Conference) finished the regular season in a second-place tie with Stanford in the Pac-10, while the Aggies were also tied for second in the WAC with New Mexico State.
USU fell to No. 7 seed Hawaii in three games in the WAC Tournament championship match Saturday.
"It's a tough matchup for us obviously," said USU head coach Burt Fuller. "(Arizona has) some really dynamic hitters. We've played some pretty good competition this year and held our own. Obviously, Arizona's seeded fourth in the tournament for a reason. We're going to have to serve tough and see if we can get them a little bit out of rhythm and take some good swings."
Fuller said that while USU does not have the Wildcats' height, the Aggies have still been able to get good offensive production out of their middle blockers and outside hitters.
"We pass well," he added. "We can run a pretty balanced attack. We're not up to the same level that Arizona's kids are, but we've been able to go at teams."
The Aggies' at-large bid marks their third Tournament berth in school history and the first since 2001. Utah State has never advanced past the second round.
Tomorrow marks the 15th meeting between Arizona and USU. The Wildcats have come out on top in five straight matches, as the Aggies have not defeated Arizona since Oct. 9, 1980.
Arizona head coach Dave Rubio's take: "USU competes in a very good conference and they do very well in that conference. They're a team that we by no means can just overlook. They would finish in the middle of our conference."
Location: Salt Lake City
Record: 22-8, 11-5 Mountain West Conference
Breakdown: Host Utah takes on Loyola Marymount in the first round tomorrow at 8 p.m. on the Utes' home court, as they received an automatic bid to the tournament after winning the Mountain West Conference
Utah defeated No. 21 Brigham Young in four games Saturday to capture the title.
This is the eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for the Utes and marks the second time Utah has played host for the tournament. Utah hosted in 2001, when it advanced to the Sweet 16.
Arizona is used to playing in the tiny confines of Crimson Court, which holds 1,500 fans, as the Wildcats fell to Utah three games to one in 2002.
Senior three-time All-MWC outside hitter Shelly Sommerfeldt paces the Utah attack with a team-high 3.58 kills per game in addition to 2.94 digs per game.
MWC Freshman of the Year Airial Salvo averages 3.3 kills per game and 2.48 digs per game. Freshman setter Shannon Krug dishes out 11.7 assists per game.
Rubio's take: "Utah is probably the next best team there outside of ourselves. They're physical, they're big and they're playing on their home court. They're going to give everything they can handle and more."
Loyola Marymount Lions
Location: Los Angeles
Record: 19-10, 7-7 West Coast Conference
Breakdown: The Lions received an at-large bid, as they make their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The invitation marks LMU's 11th tournament appearance and seventh in the last nine years.
LMU has lost three of its last four matches and finished in fifth place in the WCC.
Sophomore opposite hitter Heather Hughes averages a team-high 3.31 kills per game and 2.44 digs per game.
Freshman setter K.C. Walsh, sister of Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh and cousin of Arizona libero Brittany Leonard, averages 9.07 assists per game.
"I don't think any team is going to be a surprise," said LMU assistant coach Larry Smoot. "(Arizona is) definitely a very strong, physical team, and we expect them to be tough."
Smoot added that despite having only three seniors on the squad, the Lions are a strong passing team and a potent offensive threat.
"We have strong ball control, we're balanced offensively," he said. "We have a lot of girls with a lot of experience, although we are very young. Sometimes we'll have four freshman and two sophomores on the court."
Rubio's take: "We haven't really crossed paths very often. They played here back in '95 or '96, and that's the last time we played them."
The winner of the Arizona-Utah State match will take on the winner of the Loyola Marymount-Utah match on Saturday night at 7.