UA volleyball set to take on Cleveland State in NCAA Tournament first round
Arizona senior setter Penina Snuka sets the ball up for her teammate during Arizona’s win 3-1 against Utah on Wednesday, Nov. 23 in McKale Center. The Wildcats will play in their 19th NCAA Tournament Friday against Cleveland State.
Arizona women’s volleyball will travel to host Michigan State on Friday to face Cleveland State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This is the Wildcats’ 19th NCAA Tournament appearance in the past 25 years.
“I’m really proud of the kids and how they played throughout the year and handled the difficult situations that came up,” Arizona head coach David Rubio told Arizona Athletics.
If Arizona finds victory against Cleveland State, it will face the winner between Fairfield and Michigan State. If the Wildcats can advance further, they will move on to Lincoln, Nebraska, where the Regional Semifinal and Regional Final rounds will be held.
Friday will be the first meeting in program history between Cleveland State and Arizona. The Vikings climbed to a 25-5 overall record this year, going 14-2 in the Horizon League to earn the conference title.
With the 2016 bid, Cleveland State will be making its fourth appearance in the tournament in the last decade. In the previous three appearances, Cleveland State has not advanced past the opening round.
The Vikings are led by head coach Chuck Voss, who has six 20-win seasons in his 17 years at Cleveland State, attributing to his recognition as the winningest coach in program history.
If the Wildcats make it to the next round and face Michigan State in the Spartans’ home arena, Arizona should expect an all-out grudge match. The two teams have met three times before, as the Wildcats have the edge with a 2-1 overall record. But that one loss came in the first round of 2011 NCAA Tournament.
“It’s always exciting to be back in the tournament,” Rubio said. “Michigan State and Cleveland State are both great opponents.”
However, if Fairfield pulled off the upset over Michigan State, the Wildcats will be in shape to add another successful postseason run for Rubio. If the Wildcats are able to skid past Cleveland State, both potential matchups will have the personnel to end Arizona’s season on a short note. Fairfield is on a 22-game winning streak, the longest in the country, with a 28-5 overall record and an undefeated record in the MAAC conference.
Arizona faced 16 ranked opponents this season, earning one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Of the ranked Pac-12 Conference competition, Arizona won seven of the 13 matches, including wins against No. 9 UCLA and No. 12 Stanford.
“We feel pretty confident that what we faced in the conference will prepare us for what we’ll see against Cleveland State,” Rubio said.
The match between the Wildcats and Vikings starts at 3 p.m. and will be followed by Fairfield at No. 9-seeded Michigan State.
Follow Nikki Baim on Twitter.