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Arkansas pushed its second ranked opponent to five sets.
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Five-set loss to No. 13 Florida in SEC opener

Zach Lawson, Athletic Media Relations
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FAYETTEVILLE – Playing in front of a school-record 3,015 fans at Barnhill Arena, the University of Arkansas volleyball team dropped a five-set thriller to No. 13 Florida (23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 19-25, 15-13) Friday evening. The Razorbacks were paced by a double-double performance from Jasmine Norton, while Raymariely Santos dished out 54 assists and libero Emily Helm had a team-high 15 digs.

Norton collected her seventh double-double of the season with a match-high 22 kills and 14 digs. She registered a .312 hitting percentage (22-7-48) against the Gators. Roslandy Acosta totaled 16 kills and Liz Fortado added 11 kills on the right side. In her first start of the season, Amanda Anderson responded with 13 kills on a .423 hitting percentage. Freshman Monica Bollinger tallied a season-high 12 digs.

“I thought we did some good things tonight,” head coach Robert Pulliza said. “One team had to win and one had to lose, and unfortunately we came out on the losing end. I thought we did what we needed to do to be successful. The ball just didn’t bounce our way one some plays here and there.

“I don’t think we played poor, (Florida) just played better. That was a championship-level match out there today. It didn’t go our way but I’m proud of our kids for the way they prepared and fought.”

In the decisive fifth set, Florida (7-2, 1-0 SEC) won the first three points and led, 8-4, when the teams switched sides. Arkansas (9-3, 0-1 SEC) won the first two points after the switching, forcing a Gator timeout after a tandem block from Santos and Janeliss Torres-Lopez. The visitors increased their lead to five and eventually led, 13-9, after a kill from Tangerine Wiggs.

With the record crowd on its feet, the Razorbacks reeled off three straight points and pulled to within one point off a UF attack error. Facing its first of two match points, Arkansas stayed alive with a kill off the hand of Anderson. However, the Gators got the final bounce to close out the set, 15-13, and the match off another kill from Wiggs.

The Razorbacks opened the match with a .366 hitting percentage to win the first set, 25-23. The score was tied late in the opener, but back-to-back kills from Fortado and Norton clinched the set win. With her first kill of the match, Norton recorded the 1,500th kill of her career, joining the program list that includes Denitza Koleva (1,595 kills) and all-time leader Krystal Osborne (2,185 kills).Florida responded to take a 2-1 match lead after identical 25-22 game scores. The Gators posted a .371 combined hitting percentage in games two and three.

One set away from defeat, Arkansas used an eight-point surge to take a 15-9 lead in the fourth game. With Bollinger at the service line, the Razorbacks turned a two-point deficit into a six-point advantage. The home team was aided by three blocks during the stretch. Later in the set, Acosta found the floor to push the lead to nine, 24-15, and give Arkansas a handful of chances to even the match. On their fifth opportunity, the Razorbacks closed out the set, 25-19, on a kill out of the middle from Torres-Lopez.

Friday’s crowd of 3,015 more than doubled the old school mark, previously established at 1,407 fans last year in the season opener against Colorado State. Three of the top 10 attendance figures in school history have been posted this season. After the match, the Razorback faithful held a pep rally for the Arkansas’ football game Saturday against No. 1 Alabama.

“Our fans really showed the Hog pride tonight,” Anderson said. “You feel the love and the energy from them. We feel privileged to have that for our volleyball games. You can’t even describe how awesome it feels to play in front of a crowd like that.”

The Razorbacks’ first bye date of the conference season comes early with no match Sunday. The team returns to SEC play Sept. 21 for a road match at No. 17 Tennessee in Knoxville. The weekend will wrap with a Sept. 23 matchup at Georgia. For more information regarding Razorback volleyball or University of Arkansas athletics, please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.

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