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Volleyball faces daunting test in NCAA first round

The Virginia volleyball team faces a stern test in its second trip to the NCAA Tournament, as it tackles Pac-10 power Arizona in the first round.

The Cavaliers (19-11, 9-7 ACC) square off with the No. 19 Wildcats (19-10) tonight at 7 p.m. at the University of Texas. The victor will face the winner of a first-round tilt between the No. 15 Longhorns and Houston.

Although the short span of time between the announcement of the bracket and the beginning of action leaves the Cavs with little time to prepare, Virginia Coach Melissa Aldrich Shelton said she's not altering her approach.

"We have just about as much time [for Arizona] as we do every other opponent," Aldrich said. "We go week by week and scout that way. We'll be prepared for Arizona; we won't be prepared for Texas or Houston depending on who wins that one. It's just like the ACC Tournament in that regard."

It will be a matchup between two programs with vastly different histories. The Cavs, who will compete in only their second NCAA Tournament, face a well-established Wildcat squad. Arizona is competing in its 15th NCAA tourney, and fourth consecutive one.

Playing the Wildcats has special meaning for Virginia setter Mary Frances Scott. Scott, who earned a spot on the All-ACC First Team, is a Phoenix native who is very familiar with Arizona and its players.

"I couldn't have asked for a better team to play," Scott said. "I have people who I played with on club for three years on that team. I know a couple of the girls really well. It will be very weird."

None of the other members of Virginia squad have such close ties to Arizona, but that doesn't make the match any less important. A loss would end the careers of Whitney Bilger, Jessica Parsons and Scott. Virginia's record during the trio's four years in Charlottesville makes them the most successful class in Cav volleyball history.

The experience the Cavaliers gained in last year's tournament gives them an edge heading into tonight's showdown. In 1998, competing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, Virginia fell to UCLA in a three-game sweep.

"Last year's experience will be invaluable," Shelton said. "Everyone who will be on the court for us will have been out there last year against another nationally ranked program like UCLA. It should be a lot easier, both for the players and from the coaching standpoint."

And after winning two of their last three matches, including handing American its first home loss of the year, the Cavs are confident they can take the accomplishments of last season one step further and notch the first NCAA Tournament triumph in the program's history.

"We played very well in the last five matches -- win or loss, we played very well," Scott said. "I think going into the NCAAs with that kind of momentum is definitely an advantage"

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