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Volleyball lacks attack

Michael Ignatov | The Daily Wildcat Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat University of Arizona Volleyball team meets UCLA in an NCAA women's volleyball match at McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz., September 26, 2009. Arizona fell to UCLA 3-1, earning its first loss of the season.

Arizona volleyball fell to then-No. 14 UCLA for their first loss of the season Saturday, but losing this early in the season doesn't immediately sound the alarm bells. Yet a sense of urgency hit the Wildcats this weekend.

""Everyone was talking about the record,"" said junior setter Paige Weber. ""Being 12-0 is great, but being 12-0 can also give you a false sense of security.""

They knew that conference play was going to be more challenging, but their style of play wasn't up to the level of the Pacific 10 Conference. 

The problem for the No. 18-ranked Wildcats (12-1) over the weekend was their inability to get their attack going. Even though junior outside hitter Whitney Dosty returned to action for Arizona, her presence wasn't enough to keep the kills coming. While she was able to make some plays on offense, Dosty only saw limited action in the weekend's matches and could not play to her full potential due to her hand injury.

Instead, Arizona attempted to find other sources for their attack, calling on middlebacks sophomore Courtney Karst and senior Jacy Norton to bulk up the offense. It worked on Friday night against then-No. 13 USC. Arizona was able to rely on a spread offensive attack, totaling three players with double-digit kills.

The same wasn't true on Saturday against the Bruins. Although it recorded a .282 attacking percentage in the first set against UCLA, Arizona's offense struggled in the second, third and fourth sets, recording an attacking percentage of .070, .033 and .022, respectively.

Before last weekend, the Wildcats had hardly been challenged. Although head coach Dave Rubio dressed up the non-conference schedule in hopes of preparing the team for the Pac-10, the matches against USC and UCLA were the first real test of the season for Arizona.

The record and the rankings mean nothing when the players are on the court and the conference matches begin. Despite Arizona's perfect ranking, they couldn't stop the Bruins from walking away with the win.

""I've always known that we're pretty good. Where does pretty good rank? That's a generic term,"" Rubio said about evaluating his team. ""The range (of play) is maybe with the top teams, and certainly 10-30. Where we are on that scale, I don't know.""

In an unpredictable conference like the Pac-10, effective scoring is a key to success — converting on the chances when the opportunity presents itself is a must. Instead of taking control of the match, Arizona let it slip by. 

""When you play against a team that wants to take your head off, they're going to exploit every weakness,"" Weber said of the loss to the Bruins.

The question now for the Wildcats is how they will respond. Their play this weekend will set the tone for the rest of the season, especially in terms of their conference standing.

Focusing on the little things is what Arizona will have re-evaluated in game preparation this week. Getting back to basics, starting with good passing, setting up the attack and limiting errors on the offensive side of the ball — those have been key for the Wildcats all season.

""The differences between winning and losing are really small,"" Rubio said. ""Maybe a missed serve or someone's out of position and not fulfilling their responsibility.""

The conference season is only beginning, but the implications for conference bragging rights and a post-season appearance are at stake. Now, Arizona will have to regroup and somehow get their swagger back against the Washington schools.

""We just sat back and took whatever (the opposition) gave us,"" Weber said. ""We let them dictate.""

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