By Ron Parsons
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The Arizona women's volleyball team, still clinging to hopes of an at-large NCAA tournament berth, closes the regular season today and tomorrow with a pair of matches against undefeated and second-ranked Hawaii.
Arizona faces the Rainbow Wahine tonight at 9:15 and tomorrow at 10:15 p.m. (Tucson time). Both matches are at the University of Hawaii's Special Events Arena in Honolulu.
"It's not over 'til it's over," Arizona assistant coach Steve Carlat said. "We're not out of it even if we lose these matches."
At 14-12 overall and 6-12 in the Pacific 10 Conference, the Wildcats, despite their season-long top 25 ranking and a couple of big upsets, could be on the outside looking in when the selection committee announces the field for the NCAA Tournament on Nov. 26.
Two upset wins against the Rainbow Wahine, however, could impress the tournament committee enough to name Arizona as one of the 48 teams invited to the Big Dance in December.
But defeating Hawaii is something no team has managed to accomplish this season. The Rainbow Wahine, under coach Dave Shoji, are 27-0 overall, 17-0 in the Big West Conference.
Carlat said playing Hawaii in Honolulu is not an easy task.
"Hawaii poses a couple of different things that we need to solve," Carlat said. Those things are a decided hometown advantage and a tough Rainbow attack.
For the second straight season, Hawaii broke the NCAA attendance mark. In 19 matches, Hawaii has drawn 99,227 fans, good for a 5,225 per-game average. Tonight the Rainbow Wahine will become the first women's volleyball program ever to draw over 100,000 fans in a season.
But the Wildcats have to deal with more than just a large, hostile crowd Ÿ they have to deal with Hawaii's two powerful outside hitters.
Carlat called Hawaii's Angelica Ljungquist and Therese Crawford "two very good, quality outside hitters."
Ljungquist, a two-time All-American, leads the Hawaii attack with 331 kills, while Crawford has amassed 347 kills for a 3.9 kills-per-game average.
For Arizona, junior outside hitter Barb Bell will be the focus of the attack. Bell, who was named to 1995 all-Pac-10 team, is the conference's kills leader with 468, and also leads the Pac-10 with a 4.73 kills-per-game average. Last week, she moved into second place on the UA career kills list with 1,313 kills. Terry Lauchner (1987-90) holds the record with 1,637 kills.
Sophomore left-side hitter Carolyn Penfield also provides some punch to the offense, and is second in team kills with 298.
Hawaii's offense starts with sophomore setter Robyn Ah Mow, who has collected 1,114 assists this season and for a 12.1 assist-per-game average.
"She's not fancy, and she's not deceptive," Carlat said. "She just delivers the ball."
Arizona senior setter Laura Bartsch, playing in what could be the last two matches of her career, also knows something about delivering the ball. She is the UA's career-assist leader with 4,024, and is fifth in the Pac-10 with 11.4 assists per game.
Carlat said Bartsch has made the most of her senior year.
"It's her best season from a volleyball standpoint and from a leadership standpoint," Carlat said. "She's always competitive, and she's always strived to be her best."
Net-play will also be a key, he said.
"Defensively, they're a lot like us. One of the key things will be how we block," Carlat said.
Sophomore middle blocker Stephanie Venne leads the Wildcats with 137 blocks, good for fifth in the Pac-10.
Hawaii, however, has three different players averaging over a block per game with Ah Mow (1.0), Ljungquist (1.7) and Cecelia Goods (1.3).
Carlat said despite the Wildcats' 2-9 record in recent matches, the team's psyche is in good shape.
"I think the mentality is real good," he said. "I think they've put everything in perspective."
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