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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Pressure after a perfect start

Undefeated. It’s a word that generally means domination. A word that is a launching point for a successful season.

It’s intimidating.

It gives a team confidence, instills fear in opponents and sets the goal to remain undefeated for the season. At least, it would if you didn’t play in the Pacific 10 Conference.

The Arizona Wildcats are undefeated coming out of their non-conference schedule, going 11-0 over the course of a month to begin the year. Despite recording the best start in the program’s long history — the Wildcats have been competing since 1977 — it doesn’t mean much at this point in the season because most of their conference joins them among the best in the nation.

In the Pac-10, there are no guaranteed wins, no “”weak”” teams and certainly no room for error.

While the Wildcats have been on their streak, the rest of the league isn’t falling behind.

Two other teams are also undefeated this season. Seven teams are ranked in the top 25 American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll. Two more received votes this week.

The question now is how good Arizona will have to be in order to be good enough. What will they have to do to finally make it back to the NCAA tournament?

Arizona has already won four consecutive tournaments in three states. In the young season, junior outside hitter Tiffany Owens has been Pac-10 player of the week and tournament MVP twice.

And while most Wildcats fans might be concentrating on the quarterback controversy at Arizona Stadium, the women’s volleyball team has quietly moved up from unranked at the beginning of their non-conference season to the No. 19 spot just four days before they begin Pac-10 play. 

The problem is that none of that promises anything. The strength of the non-conference schedule can help, but it’s the main stage that counts.

The Wildcats realize that their record is a starting point, but that it is only that — a starting point. Luckily, they aren’t paying much attention to their record at this point. A short memory is the best ally for Arizona.

It won’t get any easier. No breaks. The level of competition only gets higher.

The season continues for 10 more grueling weeks.

The key for Arizona is that they’re grounded, a veteran team motivated by the sting of rejection from last year’s NCAA tournament. They want to make it back to the tournament and prove that Arizona is a legitimate program.

That desire is what will keep them from going hungry and help them take their wins like they should — one at a time. In the “”Conference of Champions”” that’s exactly what they need to do. One match, one game, one volley, one serve at a time.

This weekend will be the first real test for the Wildcats. With the certainty of junior outside hitter Whitney Dosty still up in the air, the road gets a little rockier. While the team is too deep to collapse without Dosty, the more time she remains on the sideline, the more the potential for Arizona to score with one swing decreases.

The fate of the 2009 season will be determined by Arizona’s conference play, but the Wildcats won’t complain about the competition they face. The Pac-10 is the best conference in the NCAA in terms of volleyball, and facing the best is what it’s all about.

“”At times it’s hard because you take your knocks,”” said junior setter Paige Weber. “”But what’s your goal as an athlete if (it) isn’t to play, compete and win against the best? Why even do it?””

— Nicole Dimtsios is a journalism sophomore. She can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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