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Volleyball bounces back

Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA loss to California Volleyball at McKale Center Friday, Sep 24
Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA loss to California Volleyball at McKale Center Friday, Sep 24

Arizona volleyball had its possibly worst week of practice of the year, but it culminated in what may be the Wildcats’ best performance of the season.

Arizona (12-4, 1-2 Pacific 10 Conference) knocked off in-state rival ASU (5-10, 0-3) in straight sets at McKale Center, and then defeated New Mexico State University in four sets on Sunday after dropping the opening set in Las Cruces, N.M..

“”It feels really good. After last weekend, we were pretty disappointed, so we went into practice this week knowing that we would have to work even harder because ASU was working just as hard as we were,”” said junior outside hitter Courtney Karst. “”We just wanted to come out and get this win to get that off of our backs.””

In the week leading up to the weekend’s matches, Arizona had two injury scares involving critical players. Setter Paige Weber turned her ankle on Tuesday, and Karst ran full-speed into a blocking box on Thursday.

Rubio feared the worst for both players, he said. Weber had to be taken from practice in a wheelchair, and Karst was writhing in pain on the McKale Center floor. Rubio said he was sure that she had broken her leg or torn her ACL.

However, both played on Friday and, according to Rubio, both played very well.

“”I can’t believe that (Karst) played today,”” Rubio said. “”Same thing with Paige (Weber).””

Even though her coach was pessimistic about her chances to play in the match, Weber said that she knew all along she would be on the floor.

“”I’ve played on much worse, so it would take a lot more to keep me from playing in any match period,”” she said. “”Especially a match like this.””

The Wildcats’ win over the Sun Devils capped off an emotional week because of poor performance last weekend and in practice this week.

“”There were a lot of peaks and valleys emotionally,”” Rubio said, “”just because of the possibility of losing both of those players.””

Arizona, which has struggled to finish off opponents after taking a 2-0 lead — two of the Wildcats’ four losses have come in that fashion — was finally able to put together a dominating clinching set, defeating the Devils 25-12.

“”(Finishing a win) is something that’s tough to do. It shouldn’t be, but it is for every team,”” Weber said. “”It’s something that we always try to focus on, but to be able to come out in the third game, up 2-0 and being able to put away a team like we should is definitely a step in the right direction.””

After Arizona was able to put away ASU in the third set, the Wildcats were successful in a similar situation against New Mexico State. Once again, Arizona was able to put away its opponent in the final set instead of letting it hang around. The Wildcats won the deciding fourth set 25-17 over the Aggies.

In what Rubio called her best performance of the season, Weber notched 38 assists and found five different attackers against ASU, and 49 against New Mexico State.

“”It wasn’t a game plan, but when all of your hitters are viable options it makes my life a lot easier,”” Weber said. “”There wasn’t a single hitter tonight that I did not and would not feel comfortable getting the ball to.

“”That’s what makes it really hard when other teams are playing against you … when they have to respect everyone.””

Luafalemana suffers setback

After suffering a stress fracture in her foot during fall camp, freshman middle blocker Tarryn Luafalemana had seen action in both of Arizona’s conference matches. However, pain in her foot has flared up, and Rubio doesn’t know when she will be available to play again.

“”She really is not healthy — she’s still having foot pain and we couldn’t play her if we wanted to,”” Rubio said. “”She could play, but it would be detrimental to her health.””

Karst’s early struggles

According to Rubio, Courtney Karst has struggled all season with things like finding attack lines and staying aggressive. Friday, her work in practice finally made an appearance in a match.

“”We’ve been working so hard with her,”” Rubio said. “”Tonight she didn’t start off great, but she hung out there and put up some pretty good numbers. I was proud of how she hung in there throughout the match and really toughed it out.””

Bannister to factor into rotation

Kaylen Bannister delivered a baby boy in late August, but the junior middle blocker is already back in the Arizona lineup and is being looked at to be a serious contributor.

“”It’s like (Bannister) is back to being a freshman — she’s nervous out ther and isn’t really comfortable yet,”” Rubio said. “”We’re slowly but surely trying to get her more minutes, and I think once she gets physically back to where she was before she was pregnant she’ll feel a lot better — but we’ve got to get her ready, that’s the bottom line for us.””

Looking ahead

The Arizona volleyball team will continue Pac-10 play when it travels to Oregon this weekend.

The Wildcats will first take on the Oregon State Beaversin Corvallis, Oreg. on Friday before heading up to Eugene, Oreg. on Saturday to take on the Oregon Ducks.

The Wildcats will return home on Oct. 15 against UCLA and Oct. 16 against Southern California.

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