SAN DIEGO, Calif. ?- Paced by an outstanding offensive effort nearly across the board, the Arizona volleyball team swept its way through its first-round NCAA Tournament match against UC Irvine on the campus of the University of San Diego on Friday. Game scores were 30-19, 30-17 and 30-18.
“I am pleased with the way we played tonight,” Arizona coach David Rubio said. “I always feel that there is room for improvement, but overall I think we’re playing much more consistent volleyball right now.”
Juniors Jennifer Abernathy and Kim Glass teamed up to record 29 of UA’s 53 kills in the match and helped to lead the Wildcats to a .420 hitting percentage, the second-highest attack rate in the postseason for any UA team in school history. The Wildcat defense meanwhile helped limit UCI to just 26 kills, while forcing 22 errors for a .039 hitting percentage.
Individually, Glass led all players with 16 kills on .324 hitting and finished with 11 digs, but it was the play of Abernathy that carried the Cats. The third-year starter hit .667 with 13 kills on 18 swings and posted a match- and career-high 17 digs in the win. She came one misdirected attempt from knocking off UA’s single match record for hitting percentage against the Anteaters, but an error on her final swing of the night dropped her shy of the mark. Abernathy’s efforts still marked the second-highest hitting percentage for an individual player in a postseason match at UA.
“I’ve been working hard at practice on improving my game,” Abernathy said after the match. “Tonight it worked out.”
Other standouts for Arizona included Stephanie Butkus’ 35-assist, five kills and seven dig night, as well as Jolene Killough’s effort of seven kills and a match-best seven total blocks.
The Wildcats opened the match in game one on a 9-4 run by connecting on nine of their first 10 attack attempts for a .900 hitting percentage. Led by Glass’ seven kills, Arizona hit a blistering .643 in the first frame, posting 20 kills on 28 swings with only two errors. Meanwhile, UA’s defense limited UCI to just 10 kills and a .194 hitting percentage in the game.
Arizona’s defense took over in game two, as a nearly every UCI attack attempt was contested at the net. The effort resulted in eight of Arizona’s 10 to blocks on the night in game two alone and UCI committing 12 errors while posting only eight kills on 35 swings for -.114 hitting percentage. The Wildcats offense remained on track in game two, as UA committed just a pair of errors while posting 13 kills on 33 attempts.
After playing the opening of game three close at 7-5, UA went on a 13-5 run to open an eight-point lead and never looked back.
Arizona, which has advanced past the first round of play in six of its last seven NCAA Tournament appearances, will take on host and No. 12 San Diego at 6 p.m. (PDT) Saturday, Dec. 4.