UA volleyball opens year against No. 7 Pacific

By Monty Phan

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Pacific Tournament.

The name evokes a peaceful, tranquil feeling. Ironically, it will be anything but "pacific."

The Arizona volleyball team will open the 1994 season tonight at 7:30 in Stockton, Calif., playing in the tournament named for its host, the University of Pacific. The Wildcats will face one of their toughest challenges of the season actually, their only challenge so far in the seventh-ranked Tigers.

Joining Arizona and Pacific in the tournament will be San Jose State, whom the Wildcats must play tomorrow, and Pepperdine.

Pacific is just one of the many top 10 teams the UA faces this season, but the looming challenges haven't shaken the team's confidence.

"I am excited," said outside hitter Melissa Ferris. "I think we're going to do really well. I think we're going to sweep both teams. I have no doubt about it, actually. I think we're going to do well."

The teams had nearly identical records last season Arizona at 20-11 and Pacific at 21-10, and both appeared in the NCAA tournament. But that was last season, and this year the teams are vying for much more than just an appearance in the tournament.

"It looks good," head coach David Rubio said. "We're all a little bit nervous because it's the first match and we're playing against a quality opponent. The University of Pacific is ranked seventh in the country and they have great tradition.

"They won the national championships back in '86 and '87. But we feel confident that we're going to perform well and we feel confident that we'll come out on top, so we'll see how it goes."

A common sentiment throughout the team is excitement,because of both the long wait and the anticipation of a championship season.

"We've been practicing forever it seems like," said junior setter Laura Bartsch, a probable starter. "When this weekend comes, it's going to be very energy-releasing."

Outside hitter Barb Bell added: "Having the summer off, you tend to miss it (volleyball). But I think we're ready. I'm ready, at least."

Middle blocker Charita Johnson offered some comparisons of last season's team outlook with this season's.

"I think a lot of people are out to look for us, because of (the success of the team) last year," said Johnson, who is one of only two seniors on the team. "They're looking out for us this year knowing that there's a chance that U of A will be champs which we will be. In the past it was like, 'O.K., U of A this week, so what?' But now it's like, 'Oh, the U of A, we've got to really prepare ourselves for this,' so there's a lot of excitement."

She also mentioned a big difference over last year's team, most noticeably that this year's squad will no longer be viewed as the perennial underdog, a welcome change in the eyes of the team. Indeed, it's time to take the Big Bang Theory out of the practice lights of McKale Center and onto the road.

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