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Arizona volleyball set to host opening rounds of Women’s NIVC tournament

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

When the season started, Arizona volleyball had several goals. One was to get to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats fell short of that, but decisions made in Los Angeles may have allowed them to have a postseason anyway. It will also allow them to stay home for at least one round as the team prepares to host New Mexico State, UNLV, and Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the opening rounds of the Women’s National Invitational Volleyball Championship beginning Dec. 3.

The NIVC gives one automatic bid to each of the 32 conferences, awarding it to the top-finishing team in each league that does not get an NCAA Tournament bid. If that team declines, the conference’s bid goes into the at-large pool. USC was the Pac-12’s highest-finishing team to miss the NCAA Tournament. Arizona was given an at-large bid and will be the only Pac-12 participant. Teams do not have to finish over .500 to qualify.

For the Wildcats, it provides an opportunity to continue practicing and developing the young core. Arizona has 16 players on its 18-player roster that have never taken part in a full spring development season. Of the two that have, only Zyonna Fellows is a starter.

In 2018-19, Arizona women’s basketball used a run to the WNIT championship to prepare a young team to take the next step. Volleyball head coach Dave Rubio hopes to see the same thing from his program.

“Hopefully that’s the same, the whole springboard like it was for women’s basketball,” he said.

Playing in McKale Center will also be an advantage for the team. At their final home match of the regular season, they drew 1,849 raucous fans despite a heavy slate of Arizona Athletics events taking place throughout the day. The Wildcats were 11-5 this season at home but went 4-8 on the road and 1-2 on neutral courts.

“McKale is such a great place for us to play, and the crowd was so terrific and, and the players really rose to the occasion,” Rubio said after the ASU win.

The Wildcats will open play at 6 p.m. MST on Dec. 3 against UTRGV. If they win, they will play the winner of NMSU and UNLV at 3 p.m. MST on Dec. 4.

UTRGV finished 17-10 this season including 8-4 in the WAC. The Vaqueros are led by Sarah Cruz who averages 4.38 kills per set.

The Wildcats finished 16-15, going 8-12 in the Pac-12. They were selected to finish 8th in the conference. The defeat of ASU on Nov. 27 allowed them to finish exactly as projected.

The NIVC is the volleyball equivalent of the WNIT and is also run by Triple Crown Sports. It has been a part of the postseason for Division I volleyball since 2017. The Wildcats will be taking part in this tournament for the first time, but it will be their 30th postseason appearance.