2008 Arkansas Volleyball Season Review
The 2008 Arkansas volleyball season came to a close Nov. 29, with a five-set match against Southeastern Conference Western Division rival Ole Miss in Barnhill Arena.
The season had highs and lows and will be one the current staff and their players and fans look back upon as the springboard of better things to come.
THE PULLIZA ERA BEGINS
For the first time in 15 seasons, Arkansas volleyball began the year with a new head coach stalking the sidelines. Robert Pulliza joined the Razorbacks in July taking over a program that was in need of a fresh start.
Pulliza quickly assembled a staff bringing in long-time friend and collogue Kris Grunwald and former Texas A&M standout Carol Price.
Grunwald brought experience from several programs including a pair of SEC foes, Ole Miss and Auburn. He has been both a head coach and an assistant during his career. Price is a recent graduate who began her coaching career at UT-San Antonio.
The trio hit the ground running welcoming back a pair of former Razorback players to assist in the transition. Denise Baez, the first volleyball recruit to join the Razorbacks in 1994, returned as the Director of Volleyball Operations and Jenny Rangelova Kirk, a former setter at Arkansas, became the volunteer assistant coach.
THE FIRST WIN
With his staff complete, Pulliza turned his attention to the Razorbacks and the tough schedule the team would face. Arkansas opened the year at No. 17 Colorado State and faced No. 25 Michigan the following weekend. It would take five matches before the Razorbacks clicked with their new system giving Pulliza his first win as a head coach.
Arkansas defeated Georgia State in Atlanta, Ga., for the team’s first win of the year. The historic event took one hour and 32 minutes and saw the Razorbacks win 25-22, 26-24, 25-21.
THE FIRST WIN PART TWO
The Razorbacks and Pulliza would get the team’s first SEC win of the season in the opener at Auburn. Also Pulliza’s first win against a league opponent, it was special for assistant Kris Grunwald as well. Grunwald is a former assistant and head coach for the Tigers.
Arkansas battled back to win 25-22, 19-25, 17-25, 25-23, 15-8 over Auburn.Arkansas got several career or near-career best performances in a balanced win. Senior Caira Dortch stepped up with a career-best four service aces, junior Heather Royal tied her career-best with a match-best 17 kills and senior Christina Lawrence just missed her career high with 16 kills.
“I’m so pumped up right now,” Pulliza exclaimed. “I wish all Razorback fans could be here to share this. We got it done and showed a lot of character tonight. It was exciting and fun to see the team take charge in the fifth game and it was just a great team effort. Heather and Christina were just outstanding down the stretch and were clutch for us.”
Arkansas hit .212 for the match while the Tigers posted a .250 hitting percentage. Auburn had more kills, assists, digs and blocks but the Razorbacks walked out with the win.
SWEEPIN’ UP IN THE SEC
Arkansas opened the year with an SEC win over Auburn. The Razorbacks also defeated the Tigers in Barnhill Arena for the series sweep. Arkansas would do the same to Mississippi State downing the Bulldogs in three sets in Fayetteville and going five to get the win in Starkville, Miss.
LAWRENCE REACHES 1,000 KILLS
Senior Christina Lawrence became the 13th player in Razorback volleyball history to reach her career 1,000th kill as Arkansas faced No. 11 Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Lawrence needed two kills for 1,000 and finished with a Razorback-best nine. She hit .250 for Arkansas and had one dig while scoring nine points. Lawrence’s milestone kill brought the Razorbacks within one, 4-5, in the first set of the match.
Lawrence began her career with the Razorbacks in 2004 as a basketball player while redshirting with the volleyball team. After a season of hoops, Lawrence dedicated herself full-time to the volleyball program. A standout athletically, Lawrence battled injuries throughout her career but stayed on the court earning selection to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team as well as numerous all-tournament team honors.
Lawrence saved her best for last improving statistically in nearly every category in 2008. Lawrence embraced Arkansas’ new system and new coaching staff in 2008 becoming a six-rotation player for the first time in her collegiate career. As her career came to a close, Lawrence paced the Razorbacks with a single-season career-bests for kills-per-set with a 3.27 average and digs with 99. She tallied a single-season career-best for kills while leading Arkansas with 298 and she hit a team-leading .297.
Lawrence had 15 matches with double-digit kill totals and hit .360 (10-1-25) against No. 10 Florida, a mark that might be her career-best versus a ranked opponent. In addition, Lawrence posted a career-best 12 digs against Tennessee-Martin and 29 kills and seven blocks against Mississippi State. Lawrence has had three double-doubles with kills and digs. She finished her career with 1,109 kills.
Lawrence graduated in 2007 with degree in animal science. She is working on her master’s degree in the same field.
STIPANOVICH EARNS SEC RECOGNITION
Razorback freshman Kelli Stipanovich was honored by the Southeastern Conference with selection to the 2008 SEC Community Service team for her contributions off the court. Although just a freshman, Stipanovich has demonstrated a desire to be actively involved in community service in the Northwest Arkansas area.
Somewhat limited due to time in her first semester of college volleyball, Stipanovich made space in her schedule to participate in Arkansas’ Book Hogs “Read To Win” program. Book Hogs encourages reading in the elementary schools, with rewards for the top readers and top schools. In addition, Stipanovich and the Razorback volleyball team participated in the SEC’s “Together We Can” drive raising awareness and donations for area food shelters. Stipanovich has also assisted the Razorback volleyball team in its efforts to speak with and provide clinics to area club and youth organizations. She participated in several post-match clinics as well.
SENIORS CONCLUDE CAREERS
The Razorbacks graduated three seniors at the conclusion of the 2008 season. Seniors Christina Lawrence, Caira Dortch and Yun Tang played their final match in the Cardinal and White in a five-game thriller with Ole Miss.
PULLIZA WELCOMES FIRST SIGNING CLASS
Robert Pulliza announced his first signing class as a head coach in November. Pulliza and the Razorbacks welcome Amanda Anderson, Jasmine Norton and Kendall Cleveland for the 2009 season.
“I can’t even express how excited we are for our first recruiting class here at Arkansas,” said Pulliza. “These three athletes came on campus and saw the vision we have for Arkansas volleyball and they saw what the University of Arkansas has to offer and they want to be a part of that. We can’t wait to have them in Fayetteville.
“I think we’ve addressed some of our needs during the early signing period and we’re looking forward to making this 2009 class one of the best in country as we continue to work towards our next signing date,” Pulliza continued.