Johnson heating up as Arizona prepares for UCLA

By Arlie Rahn

Arizona Daily Wildcat

After losing their season opener to sixth-ranked Pacific, the Wildcats have won six straight matches.

Included in this streak is a record-breaking win against Oregon State that came last Friday night.

Rita Johnson has been a major reason for that success. In the game against the Beavers, Arizona set a team record by recording 20 solo blocks, and Johnson recorded 14 of the 20, setting a Pacific 10 Conference record. Furthermore, she registered 22 kills with a .327 hitting percentage in the two weekend matches. These two performances earned her the Pac-10 player of the week title for the week of Sept. 12-20.

With six freshmen and four sophomores comprising most of the team, the Wildcats will rely on the experience and leadership of Johnson, who is in the words of head coach David Rubio, "the leader of our team without a question."

This weekend's match-up between Arizona and UCLA will continue the heated rivalry of these two top Pac-10 schools.

The rivalry reached its pinnacle last year when Arizona (ranked 18th at the time) defeated the No. 1 UCLA team with the help of an astounding 24 kills by Barb Bell. Not only did this loss put a blemish on Bruins' nearly flawless record, but it also ended their 34-match conference winning streak.

Rubio, however, still remains humble in his preparation for the Bruins.

"UCLA is still the premier school in the conference," he said. "They are the team by which other schools are judged by, whereas we are the new kid on the block with a lot to prove. There is a rivalry here, but we like to think of it as just another tough Pac-10 match."

This year, however, UCLA will have to follow up its battle with the Wildcats by traveling to ASU the next day to face the 14th-ranked Sun Devils. The Bruins will need two strong games from last week's player of the week, senior Annett Buckner, who is leading the Bruins with 5.38 kills per game, if they hope to come out of this state alive.

To reinforce the idea that the Pac-10 is one of the best conferences in the nation, the Tachikara/AVCA top 25 poll contains seven Pac-10 teams. Stanford is No. 1, while UCLA, Arizona State, USC, Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State are scattered throughout the rest of the poll.

Part of this success can be attributed to the successful recruiting classes that the Pac-10 manages year in and year out. The class of this year's prized recruits belongs to Stanford. With the acquisition of 6-foot-2-inch St. Louis native Kristin Folkl and 6-foot Californian Lisa Sharpley, Stanford should continue to be a force for years to come.

In October, the Wildcats will face a major test when they square off against three top 20 teams (Stanford, USC and UCLA) in an eight-day span.

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