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Volleyball to host NCAA tournament for first time since 2002

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Rebecca Noble

Arizona volleyball outside hitter Madi Kingdon speaks on Arizona being named as the 11th seed in the 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball tournament in McKale Center on Sunday. Kingdon and the Wildcats will host Yale in the first round of the tournament.

Arizona volleyball faced a waiting game Sunday night, anxious for its spot in the field of 64 for the NCAA tournament. After approximately 30 minutes, Arizona gave a sigh of relief as its name was announced as the No. 11 overall seed.

The Wildcats (23-9, 12-8 Pac-12 Conference) will host the first two rounds of the tournament for the first time since 2002, when they made it all the way to the Elite Eight. Coming to Tucson will be Yale, BYU and Seton Hall.

Up first for the Wildcats will be the five-time defending Ivy League champions, the Yale Bulldogs (18-7, 12-2 Ivy League), on Thursday.

Arizona volleyball head coach Dave Rubio joked that the only thing he knew about his upcoming opponent was it is an Ivy League school.

“Other then the fact that they are an Ivy League, they are a heck of a lot smarter than I am,” Rubio said.

The winner of Seton Hall/BYU will play the winner of Arizona/Yale on Friday.

This year’s NCAA tournament appearance marks the 26th for Arizona, holding a 27-25 record overall in the tournament.

“Now it just comes down to executing on our side of the court, which is what our coaches have said since the beginning,” UA libero Ronni Lewis said. “Our coaches know what they are doing and have been doing this business for long enough. So, if we just trust them and trust each other, I think we will do well.”

The Wildcats had hoped to host tournament action after their regular season play but were relieved when it was announced.

“You resign to the fact that you are going to travel during the first weekend,” Rubio said. “It’s nice that we can play at home. Just the fact that we don’t have to get on a plane, get ready and pack is really going to help us.”

The hosting opportunity is special in particular for Arizona’s seniors, who left their last match in McKale Center in disappointing fashion, losing to USC in four sets on Senior Day.

“We haven’t hosted here since I don’t know when,” UA outside hitter Madi Kingdon said. “So, I think it’s a great finish to my senior year to be able to host and hopefully make it through the first two rounds on our home court.”

Kingdon said that she hopes a lot of people show up to the games because her teammates were tweeting at the ZonaZoo to attend.

This upcoming tournament will be quite the feat for any of its teams. Nine past champions will make an appearance. Ten Pac-12 teams made the tournament, the most out of any conference. The Wildcats are in the same region as Pac-12 foe No. 3 Washington, which is coming off an upset of No. 1 Stanford.

UA athletic director Greg Byrne said that Rubio and the Wildcats have stepped it up this season, especially since this is their first time hosting since 2002.

“Dave Rubio has done an incredible job with the program,” Byrne said. “We have great senior leadership on the team, but most importantly, we see a lot of the younger athletes really growing and getting stronger.”

In his 23 years of coaching, Rubio said that this team in particular might be the easiest group of kids he has ever coached.

“That’s the thing about coaching and why coaches stay around: The job never gets old because the formula for success is different every single year,” Rubio said. “This year, I have been really fortunate and very blessed — maybe the easiest group of kids I have ever had to coach.”

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