With weekend losses, tournament hopes dim for UA volleyball

By Ron Parsons

Arizona Daily Wildcat

At 14-11 overall and 6-11 in the Pacific 10 Conference, the Arizona women's volleyball team is on the outside looking in as the NCAA tournament approaches.

After dropping a pair of home matches last weekend to No. 10 UCLA and No. 17 Southern Cal, the Wildcats fell to seventh place in the conference. Arizona has lost eight of its past 10 matches, the only exceptions being a win at Oregon two weeks ago and an upset over then-No. 5 Washington State on Oct. 21.

Arizona likely needs to win its last three matches of the season to earn a bid to the NCAAs. The Wildcats play Arizona State this Friday, then travel to second-ranked Hawaii for a pair of non-conference matches Nov. 22 and 23.

UA head coach Dave Rubio said the Wildcats, based on their season-long top 25 ranking and some upsets both in and out of the Pac-10, might still have a shot at the playoffs if they can beat the Sun Devils and steal one from the Rainbows.

"We've got to beat ASU," Rubio said. "It's going to be very difficult to beat Hawaii twice."

UCLA coach Andy Banachowski said he believes that Arizona, despite its conference record and standing, still has a strong chance to earn an NCAA berth.

"I think we could easily go with seven teams in the conference," Banachowsi said, "and Arizona is always a good representative in the NCAAs."

Arizona has made two consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances.

The Wildcats have lost several close matches in the last month, most notably last Friday's five-set thriller against USC and another five-set marathon against Oregon State on Oct. 15.

Rubio said that had Arizona won those matches, it would almost be assured of a tournament bid.

"I think the reality is, the difference between us going to the playoffs and not going to the playoffs is miniscule," he said.

Arizona junior outside hitter Barb Bell continues to be one of the Pac-10's marquee players.

Bell averaged 25.5 kills per match over the weekend and had a season-high 31 kills against USC on Friday. She moved into second place on the UA career kills list, passing Melissa Ferris (1991-94). Bell has 1,293 career kills and will likely break the record next year.

Last week, Rubio called Bell "the consummate player" and praised her abilities in all areas of the game.

"She does all the skills very well," Rubio said. "She's a great attacker, she's a smart blocker, she's the best attacker on our team and she plays great defense."

Her 448 kills place her second in the Pac-10 and third on the Arizona season kills list. With three matches remaining, she will likely break the season kill mark of 520 set by Terry Lauchner in 1988.

Bell leads the conference in kills per game with a 4.77 average.

Other Arizona players in the Pac-10 stats:

Senior setter Laura Bartsch, Arizona's career assist leader, is sixth in the conference in assists with a 11.29 per game. She is also seventh in aces average with .32 per game.

Sophomore middle blocker Stephanie Venne is fourth in the Pac-10 in blocks average with 1.39 per game and is third in aces average with a .35 mark.

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