By Lindsey Frazier
EVAN CARAVELLI/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona's Meghan Cumpston (12) tries to block an Oregon State return during the Wildcats' match with the Beavers in McKale Center earlier this month.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Battle of the I-10
ASU Sun Devils
Friday, 7 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Net
Although it hasn't been smooth sailing this season for the No. 22 Arizona volleyball team, the squad remains confident that a playoff berth is imminent.
But before the team can think about the NCAA tournament in Long Beach, Calif., the Wildcats (16-9) will just try to maintain a .500 or better record in Pacific 10 Conference play, a mark that has fluctuated over the last several weeks. The squad currently holds a Pac-10 mark of eight wins against seven losses.
With only three games remaining in the regular season, every win is crucial.
On Friday, Arizona heads to Tempe to face off against instate rival Arizona State before returning home Nov. 26 and 27 to play No. 14 California and No. 9 Stanford.
"My feeling is that if we beat ASU, then we're going to be in (the tournament)," said UA head coach Dave Rubio, who earned his 250th career win at Arizona in Friday's sweep over Washington State. "I think if we beat ASU and split the next weekend, we're definitely in. If we sweep all three, we're definitely in."
"The pool is so deep," he added. "Missouri beat the University of Texas. But Texas is ranked ninth and Missouri is unranked. There's a lot of upsets going on. I think what we want to do is solidify our spot by beating some good teams – taking care of business this weekend and then at least splitting next weekend."
"It's exciting," said senior libero Kelli Mulvany. "We have ASU - as long we take care of business there - and then we get to finish the season with two great wins and two great games and hopefully enter the tournament in good standing. It's exciting. It's the end of something but it's also the beginning of something. I don't think it's entered my mind ever that we're not going to go playoffs. We're trying to get better every day just so that we can eventually reach our goal which is the end of playoffs."
In 2003, the Wildcats reached the NCAA tournament for the 19th time in school history with a 17-15 record overall and a 10-8 mark in the Pac-10. Arizona was brought down in the first round by Wisconsin in four games (24-30, 30-25, 30-32, 26-30). The Wildcats tied for fifth place in the conference, while Southern California won the Pacific-10 Conference title and went on to win the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year.
"Last year, we had six teams in the conference," Rubio said. "The year before we had eight teams that went. Based on your strength of schedule and how tough our conference is, will determine who will go. We have a very strong strength of schedule. So that's not a problem.
"The thing we don't have is any significant losses," he continued. "We haven't lost to anybody bad. Everyone we've lost to has been really, really good, whether it's San Diego or Hawaii or anyone in our conference. That's why this Friday is so important. We have to make sure we take care of business that way it's not a significant loss."
The team experienced more success in 2001 when it advanced to the Final Four for the first time in Arizona history. The Wildcats were defeated by Long Beach State in a sweep (27-30, 25-30, 20-30).
After weeks of injuries at the beginning of the season, Rubio said his team is healthy enough to advance to NCAA tournament.
"I feel like the kids are pretty healthy," he said. "They don't really say anything to me. They're playing and they're practicing and I think that they know that the season end is just around the corner. I think if they are hurt, they aren't saying anything."