Column: Arizona volleyball finishes 19-13, selected for NCAA Tournament
Arizona head coach Dave Rubio watches as his team plays on Sunday, Nov 22. The Wildcats will play Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
When Arizona volleyball started the season 8-0, which included impressive victories over Southern Methodist University and Syracuse University, it looked as if the team could be on its way to a magical season. After the hot start, however, Arizona went 11-13 in its final 24 matches, including a 9-11 record in the Pac-12 Conference.
The Wildcats made competing very closely with top-ranked opponents a theme for the season, but were unable to close out most of them.
Some of those devastating matchups included two five-set losses to then-No. 2 Texas and then-No. 6 Stanford. The Wildcats frequently seemed to be in control of close matches, but were unable to stay aggressive, step up in the big moments and close out those teams.
Going into its final four matches of the season, it seemed almost necessary for Arizona to get a win over a highly ranked opponent if it wanted a spot in the tournament.
The Wildcats had two opportunities against No. 1 USC and No. 13 UCLA last weekend to pickup that elusive victory.
After losing to USC in another close, heartbreaking four set battle, it seemed like Arizona was following the same pattern it had all year and would come up short once again against UCLA.
The Wildcats, however, stepped up against the Bruins to win the match in five tight sets.
Not only did Arizona show it could step up in the tight situations of matches and stay aggressive, it also sent a message that, when at its best, it can beat any team in the country.
Being consistent throughout an entire match has been a struggle for the Wildcats all season and one of the reasons they have struggled against top-ranked opponents and some lowly conference opponents.
Arizona fell in four sets on Wednesday to Oregon State, a team that is just 4-16 in Pac-12 play and 6-24 overall.
Arizona did recover after the disappointing loss against Oregon State, however, returning home on Friday against ASU on senior night and beating the Sun Devils in four sets.
The Wildcats were selected Sunday night to play in the NCAA Tournament after finishing with a 19-13 overall record. It will be Arizona’s 27th tournament appearance and head coach Dave Rubio’s 18th trip with the Wildcats.
Arizona will start the tournament against No. 16 Western Kentucky in Provo, Utah, on Friday. The Cougars won the Conference USA with a 15-1 record and a 30-3 record overall.
Even though it will be playing a high-ranked opponent that’s only lost three matches, Arizona should have a chance against Western Kentucky if it can play as consistently as it did against UCLA.
It will also be important for the team to play aggressively the entire match and to not allow themselves to become tentative and tight when big moments arise in the match.
Arizona as a team was fourth in kills in the Pac-12 and led the conference in digs by averaging 16 per set.
Outside hitter Kalei Mau averaged the third most kills a set only behind USC’s Samantha Bricio and UCLA’s Jordan Anderson. Setter Penina Snuka averaged 10.93 assists per set, which was second in the conference only behind Stanford’s Madi Bugg.
Starting libero Laura Larson was also named to the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team. Majoring in molecular and cellular biology, Larson has maintained a 4.0 GPA, the second highest in the conference.
Look for Larson and the Wildcats to begin their postseason campaign at 5 p.m. on Friday.
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