'Second Pac-10 season' for Arizona volleyball

By Arlie Rahn

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The stage is set.

Tonight at 7, Arizona and Southern Cal will square off in Palo Alto, Calif., in a rubber match to see which team moves on and which gets an early Christmas break. The 16th-ranked UA volleyball team (17-9) posted a 1-1 regular-season record against the 10th-ranked Trojans (21-7) both teams won on their home courts. But now it's NCAA tournament time, and in an even battle like this one, earlier games do not matter.

"This is like a second Pac-10 season," UA coach Dave Rubio said. "There are no secrets anymore."

The differences between the two previous games were obvious defense and serving. In their match at McKale Center, Arizona held the Trojans to a .189 hitting percentage while recording 11 aces and only six service errors. Trojan spikers Meika Wagner and All-Pacific 10 Conference member Kelly Kuebler hit only .100 with 25 kills collectively. But when the Wildcats entered the Lyon Center on the USC campus, they left their defense at the gate. USC picked apart the uncharacteristically sloppy UA defense and hit .362 with 95 kills. Wagner and Kuebler each topped their average production as they managed 40 kills between them. The Arizona serving game resembled the sinking of the Titanic, as the team had six aces and 12 errors.

"Against BYU our blocking and serving were our strengths," Rubio said. "But our passing will be crucial against USC."

The main attribute for the Trojans is their balance on offense. With four players over the 300-kill mark, they attack from all sides. All Pac-10 member Laurie Yust, Kuebler, Wagner and Vagna Dragicevic have formed one of the most potent attacks in the Pac-10. Setter Monica Cavaliere has recorded 1,237 assists and has been a leader in the Trojan offensive setting.

Arizona has been receiving total team efforts in their last few games. The two seniors, Melissa Ferris and Rita Johnson, have picked up their play and are determined to end the season in a strong fashion. Ferris has boosted her kill total to 345 and has been hitting much better than her .239 percentage.

Johnson has been a leader on the floor and is doing just about everything for the Wildcats. She is averaging double figures in kills, blocks and digs in both of the tournament games this far. Sophomore Barb Bell topped the 400-kill mark with her performance against the Cougars, while setter Laura Bartsch has eclipsed the 1,000 assist mark in the same game.

"For us to be successful, all of the players will have to be in the flow of the game," Rubio said. "We cannot win if we rely on one player to carry us."

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