By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
The Arizona volleyball team may have dodged a bullet thanks to Stanford's home loss Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn't mean a trip to the Final Four is in the bag.
Although the No. 4 seed Wildcats (24-5) are the only seeded team left in their bracket, the competition is not about to get any easier, as Arizona takes on No. 15 Ohio (33-2) in the Sweet 16 round on Friday at 8 p.m. in Palo Alto, Calif.
An element of surprise might work in Ohio's favor, as the two schools have never faced each other.
"That's one of the few schools that I know very little about," said Arizona head coach Dave Rubio. "They compete in the MAC Conference, and we just never really get a chance to play those guys or anyone in that conference."
This marks Arizona's 12th appearance in the Sweet 16 and its first since 2002, while this is the furthest the Bobcats have ever made it in the tournament.
The Wildcats enter having won seven straight matches, while Ohio, which won its conference tournament for the third straight year, is riding a 25-match winning streak.
The Bobcats are led by senior middle blocker Julia Winkfield, who averages a team-high 3.85 kills per game and a hitting percentage of .375, which ranks 25th nationally.
"I've been trying to call some coaches to get some background on them and insight on the type of team they are, and they all say the same thing: 'They're really good. So be prepared. Don't overlook them,'" Rubio said.
He added that he thought the Bobcats would hold their own if they played in the Pacific 10 Conference and stand around the middle of the pack.
Arizona is coming off two of its most balanced matches of the season in its sweep of Utah State in the first round and four-game victory over Utah in the second round last weekend.
Junior opposite hitter Kristina Baum took pressure off senior outside hitters Kim Glass and Jennifer Abernathy, tallying 21 kills and only two errors on 32 swings for a match-high .594 hitting percentage Saturday against the Utes.
The day before, she recorded a match-high 13 kills against the Aggies.
"We're unstoppable when we're so balanced like that," Baum said. "All the blockers have to hold - they can't commit to Kim or Jen. They have to give me the respect on the right side and hold their spot."
Should Arizona defeat Ohio, it would face the winner of the Santa Clara-Pepperdine match in Saturday's Elite Eight at 9 p.m.
Both the Broncos (25-4) and the Waves (19-11) pulled off second-round upsets, as Pepperdine swept No. 12 seed Southern California on the Trojans' home court and Santa Clara defeated the No. 5 seed Cardinal in four games at Stanford's Maples Pavilion.
Santa Clara, winner of the West Coast Conference, brought down Arizona on Sept. 9 in four games, the day after the Wildcats lost starting setter Stephanie Butkus to a knee injury.
"We're certainly familiar with both programs," Rubio said. "I think both teams match up well with us. That's the thing, it's not like we're going to overpower teams because we're more physical. I think both those teams are pretty physical in their own right."