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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Volleyball ready for MSU in NCAA tournament opener

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Alex Kulpinski
Alex Kulpinski/ Arizona Daily Wildcat UA defeats ASU on Nov. 22 at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

After losing four senior starters last season, Arizona volleyball coach Dave Rubio filled each vacant spot with a freshman. It was a gamble that played a pivotal role in Arizona winning a bid to the 2011 NCAA Women’s Volleyball tournament.

On Thursday, the Wildcats left for Austin, Texas, where they’ll take on Michigan State today in the first round of tournament play.

“I feel like we’re playing with house money,” Rubio said. “At the beginning of the season we didn’t have a lot of expectations, didn’t know what kind of team we were going to have, losing four seniors the year before and essentially having freshmen start for us all year long.”

This is the third consecutive year Arizona’s been selected for postseason play, after going 19-12 in the regular season. For Arizona, this will be the 24th tournament appearance since 1981. This time around, half of the team will be experiencing postseason play for the first time, something Rubio described as bittersweet.

“The freshmen getting an opportunity to go to postseason certainly lays a great foundation for the future,” Rubio said of the team’s seven freshmen. “The bad news is that it’s a first time for them, and you never know what to expect when they get under the bright lights.”

Rubio is looking to his starting seniors Cursty Jackson and Courtney Karst to continue leading the team.

“Those guys have really brought it, and really carried a heavy load for us offensively and emotionally,” Rubio said.

Jackson was selected to the All-Pac-12 Women’s Volleyball Team and Karst received All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention on Tuesday.

Last year, Jackson’s junior season ended when Arizona lost to Northwestern in the first round of the tournament.

“We’re feeding off of that, and just ready to prove to the world that Arizona volleyball is ready to compete,” she said.

As for the conference newcomers, Jackson plans to exude confidence and lead by example, she said.

“Many have never been here before, so I’m just trying to practice, do the same things I normally do, because nothing has changed,” Jackson said. “We can’t try harder or do anything different, we’ve been preparing for this since August.”

Jackson has been gearing up starting freshmen like outside hitter Madison Kingdon and setter Chloe Mathis, who were both selected to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team on Tuesday.

Mathis took charge of running the team’s offense this season, tallying 933 assists for the Wildcats.

She filled the shoes of former setter Paige Weber. Mathis handled the task remarkably well, Rubio said.

Kingdon was the second leading scorer this season with 343 kills. The Arizona native might have surpassed Karst (345) for the top spot had she not suffered a severe ankle sprain midseason.

“She was fantastic before she got hurt,” Rubio said of Kingdon. “It has been a difficult second half of the season for her, physically and emotionally. We’re hoping she’s able to play with a lot of confidence this weekend.”

As a pure-six player who plays in every rotation, Kingdon is accustomed to more responsibility.

With the team’s season on the line tomorrow, she knows the stakes are higher than ever.

“We are really bonding as a team,” Kingdon said. “More than usual, just because we’re going to the tournament and we’re going to play for each other.”

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