UA volleyball starts 8-1, but No. 2 Texas will be big test

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                </div>  The University of Arizona women’s volleyball team was steaming right along, opening the season with eight straight wins, before hitting the first pothole on the road to another appearance […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The University of Arizona women’s volleyball team was steaming right along, opening the season with eight straight wins, before hitting the first pothole on the road to another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 15 Ohio State derailed the Wildcat Express in New York over the weekend, beating then-No. 13 Arizona in the final match of the Blackbird Invitational in Brooklyn.

And next comes an even bigger speed bump.  No. 2 Texas will visit Tucson this weekend as part of the four-team field in the annual Wildcat Classic.  The Cats, who dropped to No. 16 in the rankings after the loss to the Buckeyes, will warm up with a Friday morning match against New Mexico State before facing the Longhorns in the evening.

Arizona beat Syracuse and host LIU Brooklyn in the first two matches in the Blackbird Invite, but couldn’t get past Ohio State.  But that match could have gone either way and will likely go down as one of this season’s most exciting, hotly-contested matches all year.  The match went to four sets, and each was a nail-biter with the biggest winning margin being three points (25-22, 22-25, 25-22, 29-27).

The two teams combined for 182 digs, with plenty of long rallies and prolonged suspense for the fans.  Five Arizona players posted double-digit digs, with MacKenzie Kleespies leading the way with 22 digs.  The senior outside hitter/libero transferred in this season from James Madison and has had an immediate impact on the offense.

Junior setter Penina Snuka added 15 digs and 48 assists to record her fourth double-double of the season, while 6’1″ junior outside hitter Kalei Mau led the attack with 23 kills.

Despite the disappointment of being the first loss of the season, the Cats’ play confirmed that they are deserving of their national ranking and should be able to compete with Texas.

The 8-0 start the Cats were enjoying before running into the Buckeyes is their best since beginning the 2009 season 12-0.  This year’s jump start was launched by the momentum from last season when Arizona went 24-10, its best season in 10 years, and a third-place finish in the Pac-12.

Head Coach Dave Rubio, who is in his 24th season at the helm and the longest active tenured volleyball coach in the Pac-12, is bringing the program back to the kind of play his teams enjoyed back at the turn of the century.  His 2000 squad won the Pac-10 title and the 2001 edition played its way into the NCAA tourney Final Four and finished the season ranked No. 4 in the country.

Rubio took over a program that had won just four tournament games in its history and equaled that total in his first three years.  He has led 17 Wildcat teams into the post-season, including five of the last six seasons.

The year’s squad is young, but it has four transfers to bring some immediate help, and its eight-player recruiting class was ranked 14th in the nation.

Friday’s match-up with Texas should give fans a good idea if this team is capable of taking the next step toward bringing back the glory days.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)