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UA Vollyball: Cats set for NCAA play

EVAN CARAVELLI/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA junior Jennifer Abernathy (3) and teammates block a Stanford return during the Cardinal's sweep of the Wildcats Saturday night.
By Lindsey Frazier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, December 2, 2004
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Tourney begins today, UA takes on Irvine tomorrow in San Diego

The No. 21 Arizona volleyball team (18-10, 10-8 Pacific 10 Conference) has overcome plenty of adversity this season, but the squad will remain unsatisfied until it can bring home an NCAA tournament championship. For the ninth consecutive year, the Wildcats will have the opportunity to do so as they travel to San Diego to take on UC Irvine tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. in first-round action.

Pac-10 foes California and eighth-seeded Southern California open their tournament runs today. The reigning NCAA champion Trojans (19-5, 14-4) host the College of Charleston (26-5) today at 8 p.m. at the Lyon Center in Los Angeles. The No. 17 Golden Bears (16-11, 11-7) also have the opportunity to host the first two tournament rounds as they take on University of Pacific (19-9) today at 8 p.m. at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif.

UC Irvine (18-10, 11-7 Big West) finished the regular season tied for fourth in its conference while the Wildcats ranked sixth in the Pac-10.

"The Big West tends to be not as physical and not have as of big of players as the Pac-10, but they are really good, solid volleyball players," said UA head coach Dave Rubio. "They are really smart, savvy (and) they have been playing volleyball almost their whole life. So what they lack in physicality they more than make up in their abilities to execute her skills."

On the UCI roster is Big West Player of the Year Kelly Wing, who ranks third nationally in kills per game (5.88).

"(Wing) is a great player," Rubio said. "We actually recruited her. I think she's a terrific competitor, tough kid, a senior putting up big numbers. We need to try and limit her as much as we can."

Teammate Sami Cash was one of three Anteaters to be named to the All-Big West team after leading the nation in hitting percentage for six straight weeks. Cash is currently third in hitting percentage nationally with a .447 clip. Setter Ashlie Hain and middle blocker Amanda Vazquez also earned All-Big West Honorable Mention consideration. Hain is ninth nationally in assists (13.73) and Vazquez boasts holds a team-high 108 total blocks on the season.

Arizona is led by two-time All-American Kim Glass, who averages 4.84 kills per game and 2.93 blocks per game. Glass moved into third place on the all-time kills list Friday with 1,487 and was also named to the All-Pac-10 team, announced earlier this week. Senior middle blocker Jolene Killough also earned all-conference honors and boasts a team-high 1.08 blocks per game and a .400 hitting percentage.

Last season, the Anteaters made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years when they defeated Missouri three games to two before losing to UCLA in the second round.

"One of my old club teammates plays for (Irvine)," said senior libero Kelli Mulvany, who hails from Orange, Calif. "You can never underestimate any team. Every team in the tournament is just as strong this year so you have to go and play your best every single match. We're going in thinking that we're going to have to be the most competitive that we've ever because it's now or never."

The Wildcats have won six of its last eight matches and is 5-10 this season against NCAA tournament teams. Arizona is making its 20th NCAA appearance and holds a 22-19 record tournament record.

Arizona split its weekend series, sweeping No. 14 California before being swept by No. 7 Stanford. The Anteaters have fallen in four of their last six matches, including a sweep by Notre Dame (23-30, 28-30, 27-30) Friday.

Should Arizona defeat UC Irvine, it would face the winner of the match between No. 12 San Diego (22-4) and New Mexico State (30-2) in the second round of the tournament Saturday at 7 p.m.

Arizona is 7-1 all-time against San Diego, with its only loss to the Toreros coming Sept. 4 in a sweep (17-30, 16-30, 24-30) for the Wildcats' first defeat of the 2004 season. In addition, the Wildcats are 11-0 all-time against New Mexico State and 2-2 against UCI.

"That would be very exciting, a little chance for revenge is always nice," said junior middle blocker Bre Ladd. "(San Diego) is a solid team. I think they're seeded ninth. So they are a very solid team. They are not as physical or as athletic as we are, I think we have an advantage over them on that. But they are a good team."

"San Diego was a great team when we saw them in the first weekend of the season, they were at midseason form," Rubio said. "We had just come off the knowledge of Kim (Glass) not being the lineup, we had a brand new lineup. They're still going to be very good and tough to beat at home."

The West Coast Conference champion Toreros are making their fourth straight tournament appearance. In its nine NCAA trips, USD has won its first round match four times but has never advanced past the second round. The NMSU Aggies finished their conference season undefeated for the second straight year and won their second consecutive Sun Belt championship.

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