– The University of Arkansas volleyball program reached new heights under fifth-year head coach Robert Pulliza
, capping its 2012 season with a trip to the NCAA Tournament. With the help of two All-Americans, a handful of All-SEC performers and several career milestones, the Razorbacks posted the program’s first 20-win campaign in seven seasons and were mentioned among the country’s best as part of the national rankings for the first time since 2004.
“I’m very proud of this team,” Pulliza said following the season. “I’m very proud of the season we had. We had a great journey that I know our players and staff will always remember.”
The Razorbacks racked up a 22-10 overall record and a 13-7 mark in SEC play. Arkansas’ 20-win season represented the program’s first since the 2005 season, and 10th in program history. The overall and SEC win totals are a program high under Pulliza. Arkansas finished in second place in the SEC Western Division and fifth in the overall conference standings. The Razorbacks had a No. 32 ranking in the final RPI ranking.
Arkansas broke a six-year absence from the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship with its at-large selection into the field of 64. The Razorbacks were the No. 2 seed in the Lawrence sub-region that included No. 11 Kansas, Wichita State and Cleveland State. With its selection, the program made its 10th NCAA appearance and its first under Pulliza.
“This is the dream we’ve had since being here,” senior captain Amanda Anderson
said of the Razorbacks’ NCAA Tournament selection. “Four years I’ve been waiting for that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited in my life. My heart stopped. I started crying. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
Individually, seniors Roslandy Acosta
and Jasmine Norton
made history as the second set of Arkansas volleyball teammates to earn All-America honors in the same season. The Razorback outside attackers were recognized as AVCA Honorable Mention All-Americans for their standout efforts in 2012. Norton became the first player in program history to earn two All-America accolades during her career, while Acosta became the seventh All-American in program history.
Along with the most recent honors, the list of Arkansas’ All-Americans also includes Jessica Field (1997), Kim Storey (1998), Sara Kincaid (2003), Robert Tarnauskaite (2003) and Denitza Koleva (2006).
When all-conference awards were announced, the Razorbacks were well-represented with four selections. Acosta and Norton were named to the All-SEC First- and Second-Team, respectively; while Anderson was voted the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Liz Fortado
earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team. Arkansas’ four SEC selections were the program’s largest single-season collection since 2003.
The Razorbacks’ work in the classroom and community was also recognized with SEC academic and service honors. A total of five players—Anderson, Kasey Heckelman
, Hayley Koop
, Avery Lewis
and Clarissa Pavey
—were named to the 2012 SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. Koop was also the Razorbacks’ representative on the SEC Volleyball Community Service Team. Heckelman was also a Capital One Academic All-District VI honoree.
Capping her four-year career in Cardinal and White with her first trip to the NCAA Tournament, Norton continued to post standout numbers during her senior season. In October, she became the sixth player in program history to join the 1,000-kill/1,000-dig club. Norton finished her Razorback career with 1,799 kills, the eighth most by any player in SEC history.
Acosta reached a milestone of her own when she collected her 500th career kill in a road match at Texas A&M. In two years at Arkansas, the Vargas, Venezuela, native totaled 591 kills. From her middle attacker position, senior Janeliss Torres-Lopez
reached 500 career kills during the 2012 season. Junior Raymariely Santos
moved into third place on the program’s all-time assists list and heads into her senior season with 2,915 career assists.
During her senior season, Anderson posted career-best numbers in helping Arkansas to the postseason. In addition to eclipsing 700 kills in her career, she established a career-high .342 hitting percentage which ranked her eighth among all SEC attackers. She also had career-high conference numbers in kills, kills per set, hitting percentage and total blocks. The SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year honor for Anderson was the third in program history, and first under Pulliza..
For just the fifth time in program history, and first time since 1999, the Razorbacks wrapped their home schedule with 14 wins. Arkansas finished the year with a 14-4 record at Barnhill Arena. One of those wins was a come-from-behind victory over Kentucky in which the Razorbacks rallied from a 0-2 deficit for the first time since 2008. With the win, Arkansas also swept the season series against UK for the first time since 2003. The Razorbacks capped their home slate with a Senior Day win over Ole Miss.
“More important than the win is the mark this senior class has left on Arkansas volleyball,” Pulliza said. “It’s a mark that will always be remembered and they have left a stamp of excellence on what Arkansas volleyball is all about.”
In response to the play on the court, the Razorback fans turned out in record numbers during the 2012 season at Barnhill Arena. For the first time in program history, the total attendance figure eclipsed the 15,000 mark. In 18 home dates, Arkansas averaged 1,016 fans. The single-match record was also set during the year with a figure of 3,015 during the SEC opener against No. 13 Florida.
Throughout the season, the Razorbacks were on the receiving end of several awards. In addition to the team’s year-end awards, Torres-Lopez and junior libero Emily Helm
each earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Through the pre-conference schedule, Acosta, Fortado, Helm, Norton, Santos and Torres-Lopez earned a handful of all-tournament selections.
Following the season, a trio of Razorbacks extended their volleyball careers by signing professional contracts with the Puerto Rico Superior League. Acosta signed on to play with Valencianas de Juncos while Norton and Torres-Lopez signed with Leonas de Ponce. Arkansas now has four players in the professional league with former Razorback Yarleen Santiago (1997-99) playing for Gigantes de Carolina.
For more information regarding Razorback volleyball or University of Arkansas athletics, please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com. Fans can also keep up with Arkansas volleyball through the team’s sport-specific RazorbackVB Facebook and Twitter pages.