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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona volleyball hosts Yale in first round of NCAA Tournament

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Rebecca Noble

Arizona outside hitter Madi Kingdon (9) spikes the ball past the USC defense during Arizona’s 3-1 loss to USC on Nov. 26 in McKale Center. Kingdon and the Wildcats take on Yale in the first round of the NCAA Tournament today.

After 12 years, Arizona volleyball is hosting the NCAA tournament again, welcoming Yale to the friendly confines of McKale Center. The No. 11 national-seeded Wildcats (23-9, 12-8 Pac-12 Conference) host the Bulldogs (18-7, 12-2 Ivy League) today at about 6:30 p.m.

Due to its location, it’s rare for Arizona to host the NCAAs.

“To be honest with you, I never thought it would happen,” UA volleyball head coach Dave Rubio said. “I mean it’s been so long — 12 years. It’s really special for this group and it’s special for me because it doesn’t happen very often.”

Arizona is 9-0 at home in the NCAA tournament. Arizona previously hosted the NCAA first and second rounds in 2002 and 2000 and single matches in 1982, 1983, 1989, 1993 and 1994 before the field expanded to 64 teams.

“It’s great for our program,” UA senior outside hitter Madi Kingdon said. “It’s the first time since, I don’t even know, 2004, sometime? It’s awesome for our program, and I think it will give this school a little more recognition for volleyball, and hopefully we’ll get a lot of fans to come out and support our volleyball team.”

The Wildcats are 12-4 at home this season, winning 40 of the 57 sets. This is Arizona’s 25th appearance in the NCAA tournament and Rubio’s 17th in his 23 seasons as head coach.

“It’s really exciting; it’s really good,” UA sophomore setter Penina Snuka said. “It just shows the hard work that we’ve put in throughout the year.”

Arizona’s 23 wins during the regular season are its most since winning 25 in 2000 and the 12 league wins are the highest since taking 14 in 2005.

The Pac-12 had a league-record 10 teams make the NCAA and five are among the 16 national seeds.

“The good thing about being in our conference, as we approach our first match and hopefully march through the tournament, is that everything we’ve seen in our conference has prepared us,” Rubio said. “I don’t think there’s anyone that’s going to give us heart burn.”

Yale earned its spot in the NCAA tournament by winning its fifth straight Ivy League championship. Rubio said a problem with playing Yale is that film of the Bulldogs is not reliable.

The NCAA has the teams send video of their latest match, which for Yale was a 25-17, 25-12 and 25-12 win over Stony Brook. Arizona also swept its last foe, ASU, but it was 29-27, 25-20 and 25-21.

“The hard thing about being in the NCAA versus the conference is that you don’t have as much information at your disposal,” Rubio said. “The NCAA, in their infinite wisdom, for some reason, has you send the last match that you played to your first-round opponent. Well, what happens if that match is a really noncompetitive match?”

The Bulldogs have the most wins of Ivy League teams in the NCAA tournament, going 2-5, and have made it to the Big Dance six times total.

“We’re very excited to be a part of the field of 64 and the opportunity to play a program like Arizona,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said in a press release.

The Wildcats and Bulldogs have never met before.

BYU (25-4, 16-2 West Coast Conference) and Seton Hall (28-7, 15-3 Big East) play in the first match at 4 p.m. The winners face off on Friday with a place in the Sweet 16 at stake.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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