By Ron Parsons
Arizona Daily Wildcat
It was the best of times, it was was the worst of times ...
No, 1995 wasn't A Tale of Two Cities for the Arizona women's volleyball team Ÿ it was "A Tale of Two Seasons," a year in which the lows of the second half of the season matched the accomplishments of the first.
The Wildcats (14-14) went from being a ranked team pulling off big upsets to a .500 squad without an invitation to the NCAA championship tournament, and no chance to repeat its Sweet Sixteen appearances of the past two years.
"Any time you go through a .500 season it's a disappointment," Arizona coach Dave Rubio said. "With the amount of success we've had the past few years, you just expect to be there. It's killing me not to be there right now."
At the end of the season, some players said they knew their chances for a bid were slim.
"Honestly, I'm not surprised that we didn't make the tournament because we had such a bad second half of the season," senior setter Laura Bartsch said.
There were high points, of course: Bartsch breaking the UA career assist record, finishing with 4,024; junior outside hitter Barb Bell moving into second place on the UA career kills list with 1,342 and making the All-Pacific 10 Conference first team.
But then came a string of losses, closing with two season-ending defeats to No. 2 Hawaii in Honolulu.
The first half of the season saw the Wildcats win three tournaments en route to a 12-3 record and a No. 12 national ranking. Highlights included an upset of 9th-ranked Ohio State in Columbus and a win over perennial power UC-Santa Barbara in Tucson.
Then Friday the 13th hit.
On Oct. 13, Arizona traveled to Los Angeles and was defeated by No. 9 UCLA. That loss started a 13-match slide in which the Wildcats would win just twice.
Included in that streak were three crushing five-set losses to Oregon State, Southern Cal and Arizona State. Those losses, more than anything, kept the Wildcats out of the tournament.
Youth, inexperience and self-doubt all contributed to the defeats.
Bell said Arizona had chances to win those matches.
"Every game could've gone either way," she said. "I don't think any team was better than us, but sometimes you just don't win. We were good enough to beat all those teams, and we didn't. I'm not upset at how we played, I'm upset we didn't win."
Bartsch, who will graduate with a degree in geography, said dropping five-set matches was difficult for the team to handle.
"I think losing in the fifth game has been really hard on us this year," she said. "We lost a lot of close games and we just could never pull it off."
Arizona started just one senior Ÿ Bartsch Ÿ for most of the season, and many key players such as Carolyn Penfield, Stephanie Venne and Keisha Johnson are underclassmen. Youth might have been a factor in the losses, Bartsch said.
"I think a lot of it was inexperience. That sounds like such a cop-out, but when it came time to win, I don't know if we knew how to win as a team," she said.
For Bell, her favorite moment of the season came not on the court but with her teammates on the streets of Hawaii, after the season was over and chances for an NCAA bid looked slim.
"The last Friday in Hawaii was a lot of fun," Bell said. "All the burden was taken off of us. We were free-spirited. We went out and shopped, and there were no worries. If we made it, we made it, and if we didn't, we didn't."
Rubio said the closing weeks of the season, when the team came together, were his favorite time.
"Even though we lost, the kind of heart and the kind of tenacity and attitude that we displayed every match the last three weeks were for me the highlight of the season," he said.
The low point for Bartsch came in Hawaii. She was unable to play the final two matches of her career due to a sudden attack of the stomach flu and had to watch from the sidelines.
"I always want to play, so that was hard," she said. "But I was really too sick to worry about it at the time."
Where does Arizona go now? Both players and coaches alike are looking forward to next season, when the inexperienced Wildcats will have become the seasoned Wildcats.
"That's why I'm so positive about next year," Rubio said. "We're going to be a great team because we've got virtually everyone back with the exeption of Laura."
Bell agreed with her coach.
"I think the experience of having this year under our belts is going to help a lot next year," she said. "And definitely next year we're making it. There's no option."
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