By Ron Parsons
Arizona Daily Wildcat
The Arizona women's volleyball team upped its record to 6-0 this weekend, winning three games to take the Hotel Park Invitational title. The Wildcats lost only one game in the tournament.
With Saturday's15-10, 15-8, 15-10 victory over previously undefeated South Carolina, Arizona equaled its best start in school history.
On Friday, UA defeated American University 15-8, 15-9, 15-7. Saturday morning, Arizona beat New Orleans 15-6, 15-2, 16-14 to set up the evening's championship match with South Carolina.
The Wildcats were paced by senior setter Laura Bartsch, who had 106 assists in the tournament, including 58 against the Gamecocks. Bartsch, who also had 14 digs and six kills in the title match, was named the tournament's MVP, and was joined on the all-tournament team by junior outside hitter Barbara Bell and sophomores Michelle Fanger and Stephanie Venne.
Bartsch, who, with 3,150 assists, is second behind Heather McCormack's 3,517 on the Arizona career assist list, said having teammates that played well made her job that much easier.
"I think everybody can hit on our team," Bartsch said. "Having five hitters on the court that can kill the ball at any time helps me out a lot."
When she wasn't passing the ball to teammates Bell (22 kills) and Venne (15 kills), Bartsch was taking advantage of holes in the South Carolina defense by dumping the ball over the net herself.
"She's got the green light to do that," coach David Rubio said. "She'll always be an attacking threat."
But it was her accurate setting that allowed Arizona to control all three games from the start. As usual, Bell was the primary recipient of Bartsch's passes, hitting 44 kills over the weekend.
"Laura was unbelievable. I think she's one of the best setters in the country," Bell said.
Bell was impressive herself, collecting 15 digs in addition to the kills. She credited middle blockers Venne and Laura Reckmeyer with forcing South Carolina's hitters into weaker shots.
"Our middle blockers really set up well, so I didn't have a lot of area to cover," Bell said.
Venne had 14 digs in addition to her two solo blocks, and junior outside hitter Heidi Bomberger had 11 digs. Bell said that kind of defensive effort is what will keep the Wildcats in every game.
"If we keep steady and do what we need to do on our side of the net, we can beat pretty much anybody," she said.
In the championship game, South Carolina started quickly, taking a 5-2 lead in front of about 1,000 fans at McKale Center. The Gamecocks were led by senior outside hitter Kori Ermigarat, who had 17 kills in the match.
Arizona fought back behind the hitting of Bell and sophomore Michelle Fanger, who combined for 10 kills in the first game.
"We'll never beat ourselves," Rubio said. "We hang in there and fight and scratch and claw."
If there were any negatives to come out of this weekend, it was UA's service errors. Against South Carolina, the Wildcats sent 21 serves into the net. The Gamecocks had just 10 errors.
"That's one area of the game I think we can improve on dramatically," Rubio said. "We've got to get better at it. Fortunately, we've been able to sideout and it hasn't hurt us."
Overall, Rubio said he was extremely pleased with the way his team is playing heading into the Pacific 10 Conference season. The Wildcats' conference opener is against Arizona State on Wednesday at McKale.
"Everyone is really performing very well," Rubio said. "The blend and the balance of what we have on the floor, even when we start substituting, is wonderful. I like what I see."
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