Volleyball hopes tough schedule will lead to success

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Alan Walsh | The Daily Wildcat Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Playing stronger opponents in pre-conference games can benefit a team looking to increase its post-season appeal, especially when it is looking to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005.


Compared to the 2008 schedule, the Wildcats' pre-conference season includes six tournament teams — Belmont, Louisville, Utah, Tulane and Santa Clara — making for a more difficult beginning to the year.


""It looks good for you as a team,"" junior setter Paige Weber said of playing against tough competition. ""I think it's kind of a double-edge sword. When we win, it's going to look good for us, and it's going to prepare us for later on as the teams get harder when we enter our conference play.""


The strength of schedule change stems from the disappointment Arizona faced after last season's seventh place Pacific 10 Conference finish — a spot dreaded since last season.


In 2008, the NCAA tournament selected six teams from the Pac-10, leaving Arizona the odd team out despite being eligible.


This season, the Wildcats are looking to compete in a conference that again ranks among the elite in NCAA volleyball.


""Every weekend in the Pac-10, we play a tournament team,"" Weber said. ""So with playing more tournament teams, it looks good when you play against tournament teams and beat tournament teams.""


Head coach Dave Rubio decided to beef up the schedule in order to prepare for the arduous trek through the Pac-10 season. With a team of mostly veteran players, the Wildcats are up for the challenge.


""We're returning just about everybody that had significant playing time last year,"" Rubio said. ""We're experienced and we've got some depth, and I think we're pretty talented.""


For Rubio, the hope is that challenging the Wildcats earlier in the year means fewer mistakes down the road.


By the end of the season, the Wildcats will face 10 teams that made it to the 2008 postseason, including seven of the top 16 seeds from last season's tournament.


After conference play begins, the calendar does not get any easier for Arizona. In the Pac-10 — which has six teams ranked in preseason topping out at No. 4 Washington — the more preparation Arizona has, the better.


""We need to get ready for the conference,"" he said. ""We decided to step it up this year in the preseason.""


Only time will tell if Rubio's move to increase difficulty in pre-conference games will prove helpful for the Wildcats or hurt their win-loss ratio.


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