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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Looking for a strong finish

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Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona volleyball has been trying to get the bitter taste out of its mouth for a whole year. The painful upset against Washington State at the end of last season and their subsequent absence from Selection Sunday refocused the Wildcats’ concentration on ensuring their return to the NCAA tournament in 2009.

This season, Arizona has only dropped two matches while competing in McKale Center. When it hosts Stanford at 7 tonight and California at 1 p.m. for Senior Day this Sunday, Arizona must take advantage of facing the teams for the second time in their house. 

The Wildcats have already played and lost to each of the teams, so there should be little surprise about what each respective opponent will bring to the court. If Arizona is to play at its peak performance heading into the postseason, it simply needs to execute plays on its side of the net.

“”I think if they get rested and in the right mindset, that’s what it’s all about,”” said head coach Dave Rubio.

UA has been trying to garner looks from the tournament selections committee since the very first match in August. And now with just two weekends of play left in the Pacific 10 Conference schedule, it’s time they made a resounding statement.

Examining No. 19 Arizona volleyball (18-7, 7-7 Pac-10), the selections committee sees a team sitting above average, with a .500 conference record and great success against non-conference teams. Their record and national ranking alone almost guarantees a spot on the Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship roster, but the Wildcats won’t be taking any chances after last season’s sour ending.

“”We don’t want to be where we were last year,”” said junior outside hitter Tiffany Owens. “”That would be heartbreaking.””

If the postseason is really what teams work for all season, then Arizona’s start isn’t as important as its finish. The Wildcats have to clamp down for their four remaining regular-season matches. In order to solidify their chances of returning to the tournament for the first time since 2005, Arizona must have a strong showing against the four California schools, all of whom are ranked ahead of them in the AVCA Division I Coaches Poll.

If the Wildcats want to earn tickets to Tampa, Fla., the first step will be defending their home court for the last time this season.

Making it back to the tournament will require UA to end this season on the always-rocky road through the Pac-10. The Wildcats traditionally struggle while away from McKale Center, but this season seems to have broken their curse. Two conference road wins is unheard of for an Arizona team in recent memory, but unfortunately it might not be enough for the Wildcats.

Cal has three road wins against the Pac-10 this season, while Stanford has four, UCLA has five and Washington has six. In order for Arizona to be considered among the elite in the conference and the nation, they should be expected to at least keep pace on the road.

The beginning of the season provided a spark for UA. They won 12 straight matches, including three on the road in Louisville, Ky., and two in Santa Clara, Calif. But winning at least one more game without home court advantage, and within the highly-competitive Pac-10, would not only strengthen Arizona’s case for the postseason but also contribute to the Wildcats’ momentum through the end of the season.

In addition to improving their conference record, Arizona also needs to take advantage of the opportunities they have on the road. Close losses at Stanford and at Oregon State this season have set the Wildcats back, especially mentally.

Rubio talked about bridging the mental gap between an average team and having the mindset of a champion. Had Arizona emerged victorious in those losses, it would be in a much better position than just the midrange of the conference, and their attitude would reflect that.

“”I think one of our motivations is Selection Sunday,”” Owens said. “”Our motivation right now is to play well, beat the teams we need to beat so we can be in the tournament.””

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