By Arlie Rahn
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Laura Bartsch is not easily intimidated. Even though she is in the land of 6-foot spikers, this 5-foot-7 inch Spud Webb of the volleyball circuit does not back down easily. Her 45 blocks, which are fourth on the Arizona women's volleyball team, reinforce this hard-nosed mentallity that Bartsch brings to the floor.
"I take a lot of pride in my blocking," Bartsch said. "As a player, some of the most frustrating teams to play against are ones that are good blockers. So that is something that we strive for."
But coming in as a freshman, the Tucson native found Pacific 10 Conference volleyball to be quite a change.
"There are much higher expectations here," Bartsch said. "There are more pressures to deal with in both school and volleyball."
But Bartsch found that her year in juniors helped her acclimate to the Arizona program.
"Juniors helped me develop some of my skills in setting and defense. It was also where I met Barb (Bell)."
After a freshman season which involved Rubio taking over the program, Bartsch flourished in a record-breaking sophomore campaign. Her 1,400 assists and 51 aces were second and fourth respectively in Arizona history. But the highlight of her season was the upset of No. 1 UCLA where she had 56 assists and three aces.
"It was a great feeling to beat the No. 1 team in the nation," Bartsch said. "Especially since they had their winning streak."
Through her hard work and effort for the season, the junior was named to the AVCA Second-Team All-West Region. But the pressure that follows such an award has not seemed to effect her play this season.
"Laura is not the type of player that worries about awards," said UA coach Dave Rubio. "She loves her team and knows what we want to accomplish. She is dealing with it well."
Bartsch started off this season with a bang. She recorded 95 assists in two games at the Pacific Tournament in early September, moving her past former Wildcat Lindsey Hahn (1986-89) for third place on the UA career assist chart. She continued her hot play into the ASICS Grand Prix where she earned all-tournament honors.
But as the Wildcats marched into the middle of their season, some lineup changes were made. One of these involved Bartsch splitting time with freshman Michaela Ebben. But Rubio felt that the move helped her improve her game.
"I think that the competition for the setter spot was good for Laura," said Rubio. "Since she entered the lineup again, Laura has been playing some of the best volleyball that she has ever played."
When she returned to full-time playing status against the Washington schools, she totalled 78 assists while hitting over .400 for the weekend.
Now that Arizona is looking at another NCAA tournament bid, Rubio feels that Bartsch has improved her game since they were in this position last season.
"Laura has always been very coachable and she is an exceptional athlete," said Rubio. "And unlike many other 5-foot-7 setters, she is not a liability in the front row. She is developing into one of the top setters in the conference."
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