No. 14 Arizona headed to Tempe for rivalry showdown against No. 7 ASU

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Zi Yang Lai

Setter Penina Snuka (20) runs onto the court prior to a game on Sept. 18 in McKale Center.

Brandon James

College fans everywhere are focused on Arizona football’s showdown with No. 9 UCLA, but Arizona volleyball has a top-10 matchup this week as well, and it happens to be against its biggest rival.

No. 14 ranked Arizona will begin Pac-12 Conference play at No. 7 ASU tomorrow at 7 p.m. This begins a stretch where the Wildcats will play six teams ranked in the top eight over the next 10 games.

Arizona finished the non-conference season with a 10-2 record and has showed it can compete and keep up with some of the best teams in the country.

Though the Wildcats lost a five-set heartbreaker to No. 2 Texas last weekend and to No. 12 Ohio State in four sets on Sept. 12, they have proven to be solid against top ranked teams.

Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio said the team hasn’t been paying much attention to what other teams in the conference have been doing, but they have been using the out-of-conference schedule to prepare to play these teams.

Rubio said he has wanted to see his team become better blockers and more offensive, and the team took a huge step toward this goal when it gave Texas all it could handle.

He also challenged his team to step up and perform in tough situations, something he said he thinks will be very important to do in conference play.

The Wildcats have showed they are capable of doing this time and time again.

Arizona came back from a 23-18 deficit in the third set against Southern Methodist University, a team that went 26-6 just a year ago.

The Wildcats were determined enough to win the set and eventually the match.

They fought back when down 20-12 and 25-16 in sets against Syracuse, and again won the set and match.

Although Arizona dropped the decisive set to Texas, it proved it could compete with the best in the toughest situations by holding off three consecutive set points in the third set and producing crucial points in a tight fourth to force the match to a fifth and final set.

Starting strong in conference play is always important, but the meaning of this Pac-12 opener is even greater since it is against rival ASU.

Arizona will need leadership and important contributions from key players Kalei Mau, Laura Larson and Penina Snuka.

The Wildcats will look to continue their success against ASU, as they swept the Sun Devils last season.

After opening up conference play on the road, the Wildcats will return home for their conference home opener against No. 18 Oregon, Sunday at 2 p.m.