By Arlie Rahn
Arizona Daily Wildcat
When the Wildcats square off against No. 8 Brigham Young (25-3) tomorrow in Utah, one word will come into play — revenge.
After defeating state rival Arizona State in the second round last year, the Arizona volleyball team fell victim to the fourth-ranked Cougars in four games. But this year, the Wildcats feel prepared for the challenge at hand.
“BYU is a team very similar to us in that they are very streaky,” UA coach Dave Rubio said. “We are confident with this matchup.”
A large amount of the Cougars’ success this year has been due to the leadership they have gotten out of their seniors.
“I think that a major strength for us in the tournament will be our seniors,” BYU assistant coach Les Callos said. “After going to the Final Four last year, those players will have some valuable experience in tournament play.”
One senior who has been a major contributor has been All-America setter Charlene Johnson. Her 294 digs and 37 aces are both team highs, and she also boasts 1236 assists. But her ability to rise to the occasion is what impresses BYU coach Elaine Michaelis.
“Charlene deserves huge accolades. As the season went on she got better and better,” Michaelis said. “If she’s not the premier player in the nation, she’s one of the premier players.”
Fellow senior Marianne Clark and sophomore Gale Oborne have also picked up their play for the Cougars. Clark provides a balanced attack from the outside with her 272 kills and 108 blocks. Oborne is second in kills and digs with 332 and 286, respectively. Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year Angie Walker led the team in kills, with 339.
“Marianne is solid everywhere and is a good blocker on that right side,” Michaelis said. “Gale and Angie are young, but they’ve both shown how good they can be on the outside.”
The Wildcats were led by Barb Bell and Rita Johnson in Wednesday’s matchup with Loyola Marymount. Bell added 18 kills to her team-leading total of 381, and Johnson recorded 11 kills and seven blocks in Arizona’s victory. Johnson and Co.’s blocking and the team’s serving was what impressed Rubio in the LMU game.
“In the fourth game we were physically much better, our blocking especially,” Rubio said. “Another positive was our serving game.”
Another key for Arizona will be the play of junior setter Laura Bartsch.
“On Wednesday, I felt Laura was tight,” Rubio said. “She needed to talk to Barb and Rita and relax. As she started to relax, the team started to play well.”
But what worries Michaelis has been the Wildcats’ physical play.
“Arizona is a very physical, athletic team,” Michaelis said. “We’ll need to control their power with good defense and serving.”
Because of a first-round bye, BYU has yet to play a set in the NCAA tournament. Rubio sees this as an advantage for his team.
“I think that playing on Wednesday absolutely will help us in later rounds,” Rubio said. “It gives us some momentum, especially because we beat a team with the caliber of Loyola Marymount.”
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