FAYETTEVILLE – With its overall goal of joining the list of the nation’s elite, the University of Arkansas continued to make strides during the 2010 season. Under third-year head coach Robert Pulliza, the Razorbacks posted their highest win total since 2006 and finished just one win off the program’s best conference record since the SEC moved to double round-robin play.
"It was definitely a season of growth, especially when four of your starters are freshman," Pulliza said. "The most important thing was we saw growth as the season went on. We were certainly playing our best volleyball during the second half of the SEC schedule. I’m excited about that growth and the way we finished the year. We still have a ways to go but with such a young group, it’s exciting that we’ll have that time together to take that next step."
On the heels of an outstanding first season in Cardinal and White, Jasmine Norton was the only sophomore named to the 2010 Preseason All-SEC Team. The sophomore attacker responded by leading the conference in kills per set (3.83). She is the first player in program history to lead the conference in that category over the course of an entire season. When the conference’s postseason honors were announced, Norton was selected to the All-SEC Second team by the league’s coaches for the second time in her career.
On a team with no seniors on the roster, junior Kelli Stipanovich used her experience and work ethic to help lead by example. The St. Louis, Mo., notched a career-best .260 hitting percentage, more than 50 points higher than her hitting percentage as a sophomore (.204). In addition, Stipanovich finished the year with career highs in blocks, digs and points.
As the team’s two primary attackers, Norton and Stipanovich also put a dent in Arkansas’ all-time kills list. At season’s end, Norton stands at 14th with 947 career kills while Stipanovich is 16th with 891 career putaways, putting both in position to join the list of players to eclipse the 1,000-kill figure.
For the first time in the Pulliza era, the Razorbacks will benefit from a large group of upperclassmen with a 2011 roster projected to feature two seniors and six juniors. Collectively, that group accounted for more than 1,200 kills and 83 percent of the team’s offense this season.
"It’s exciting that next year we’re going to have a big class of upperclassmen with that group that did so much for us as freshmen and sophomores," Pulliza said. "The good thing about being young early and having the right people is that on the tail end, it really helps you go to that next level."
The Razorbacks will also lean on its exciting group of underclassmen as the program makes progress. That group includes SEC All-Freshman performer Raymariely Santos, the team’s setter over the second half of the season. Santos became the ninth player in program history to earn league all-freshman honors, joining Norton and Amanda Anderson as the three all-freshman selections for Pulliza. Along the way, Santos earned two Freshman of the Week and one Defensive Player of the Week awards.
With as many as four freshmen on the floor at once, the Razorbacks also caught a glimpse of the future with the play of Charmaine Whitmore and Brooke Fournier. Using her incredible athleticism, Whitmore’s presence was primarily felt defensively as the Fort Smith, Ark., native had eight matches with at least five blocks, including efforts of nine blocks against Georgia and eight against Tennessee.
In Fournier, Arkansas had one of the two freshman libero starters in the SEC. She had four matches with at least 20 digs and finished the season with 3.06 digs per set.
"We’re going to have a spring with pretty much our whole team here," Pulliza said. "That is certainly significant because you can work within the system, try different lineups and grow as a group. That is something we need to keep addressing because we fell short in some crucial times and I think that had to do with our collective effort.
"Now we get the chance to really build those relationships and understand each other better. I think our collective effort and group maturity will be better. That will help in closing out in spots that we didn’t this season."
The 2010 season also saw the emergence of sophomore Janeliss Torres-Lopez in the middle. When given the opportunity to start at the Middle Tennessee Invitational during the pre-conference schedule, Torres-Lopez responded with a career-best 11 blocks in her first start of the season. Offensively, the Salinas, Puerto Rico, native tallied a career-high 22 kills against South Carolina with a .556 hitting percentage.
As a team, the Razorbacks opened the season by sweeping their way to the tournament title at the Arkansas Invitational. Stipanovich was named the Most Valuable Player of the four-team event while Anderson and Cassie Clarke were also named to the tournament team. Clarke earned her second all-tournament selection when she and Norton were recognized for their play at the Jayhawk Classic. Norton closed out the pre-conference season with all-tournament accolades at the MTSU Invitational.
Arkansas’ 6-1 start to the season matched the starts of the 1996, 1999, 2006 and 2007 teams; only the 2002 team had a better start. The Razorbacks also posted a pair of all-time offensive performances during the season. In a sweep of Grambling State, the team had a .429 hitting percentage, the sixth-best figure in program history. A week later, the Razorbacks hit .419 against Akron for the eight-best hitting percentage.
"We were very close this year," Pulliza said. "Fourteen of our 17 losses came against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament, so we played the right schedule. Even within those losses, we had match points in three of them so you’re looking at reversing our record and being pretty close to making the tournament ourselves. We did not accomplish our main goal of making the NCAA Tournament and that was our measuring stick but we came close."
The Razorbacks received an extra boost during home matches as Arkansas averaged a program-best 847 fans per match, a figure inside the top 50 for national attendance for the 2010 season. It was the first time the season’s average eclipsed the 800 mark, topping the previous high of 737 fans per home match last year.
"No doubt about it, Barnhill Arena is one of the best venues in the country for volleyball," Pulliza said. "We’re proud to call it our home court. We’re thankful for the Razorback Nation that comes to support us. We had a great attendance year, the best in program history, and that’s a testament to our great fans. I also think it’s a testament to our team and the exciting style of volleyball we like to play."
Barnhill Arena hosted three crowds of more than 1,000 this season, including the program’s second-highest attendance ever when 1,272 fans watched Arkansas’ five-set battle against regional rival Oklahoma. Three of the top six home attendance figures came this season. In addition to the OU crowd, the Razorbacks also played in front of home crowds of 1,263 (Nov. 19 vs. No. 1 Florida) and 1,185 (season opener vs. UMKC).
Arkansas played in three television matches this season, including a national appearance at then-No. 12 LSU on ESPNU as part of the networks’ Wednesday Night Women’s Volleyball package. Both of the team’s matches against nationally ranked Tennessee were also televised.
Download: 2010 VB match-by-match leaders.pdf