Lady’Backs, Poole ready for start of season
As the 2006 season approaches and a new senior class steps into the limelight, we find that their goals are really no different than the countless classes that came before them. Get to the next level.
The difference this year at Arkansas is that the senior class has done something about that goal. They have re-dedicated themselves to an off-season training program in the hope of leading this year’s edition of the Arkansas volleyball team one step further.
Arkansas put a solid season in the books last year with the program’s ninth 20-win season in 12 years of volleyball. The team won a share of the Southeastern Conference Western Division title for the 11th time and earned the program’s eighth selection to the NCAA Tournament – the 10th post-season trip in program history.
In addition, individual honors were numerous highlighted by another solid blocking effort as Arkansas finished first in the SEC and 12th in the nation with 3.28 blocks per game. Last year’s rising junior Amy Allison also led the SEC and was second in the country as an individual in blocking with 1.83 bpg and returns this year as a senior with bigger goals in mind.
This year’s senior class also includes a pair of outside hitters in Kele Brewer and Denitza Koleva. Their storied careers were successful from the first moment the duo set foot on campus. Koleva earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors and both have earned multiple individual honors.
The senior class has amassed a 65-35 record and a 36-12 SEC mark winning 75 percent of their league matches. They have helped Arkansas to the three NCAA Tournament appearances reaching the second round twice and captured three SEC Western Division titles, reaching the finals of the SEC Tournament in 2003.
Despite all of the success, this year’s team wants even more and the corps of senior leadership combined with a hungry underclassmen base is bound to help Arkansas reach this year’s goals.
About the Lady’Back setters
Arkansas is most inexperienced at the setter position. The Lady Razorbacks have utilized a 6-2 offense with two setters rotating in the lineup in recent seasons but the graduation of senior Iva Docekalova and retirement of junior Nicole Martin have depleted the Lady’Back setters.
Sophomore Caira Daugherty returns for her second season having seen action in 100 of Arkansas’ 127 games last year. But the second-year player was used as a defensive specialist in 2005 and only recorded 15 assists. She had a pair of kills, eight service aces and 124 digs to go along with her assists.
The Springfield, Mo., native was recruited as a setter and saw a lot of action this spring but Daugherty may face a trial by fire when the season opens in August.
“The biggest question mark for our team this fall is the setting position,” said Arkansas head coach Chris Poole. “We have always been very fortunate to have returning setters or experienced setters joining our team since Tina Rico tackled the job as a true freshman in our first season as a program. Iva (Docekalova) graduated in this spring and Nicole (Martin) has decided to take an early retirement from college volleyball. This has left us a hole that must be filled by Caira, and a pair of freshmen in Lindsay (Scanlan) and Ivana (Suput). All of these young ladies had successful careers as setters in high school and club ball, but none have college experience leading the team.”
The Lady’Backs also welcome the addition of freshmen Lindsay Scanlan from Rockwall, Texas, and late addition Ivana Suput from Zitiste, Serbia.
Scanlan, 6-0 setter/outside hitter, played both positions for her high school team and the Dallas Force club team. Her experience will add depth to the setter position. Suput joined the roster in late July but her international playing experience is sure to be a plus for Arkansas.
“Ivana has played club ball for Zitiste Club since 10 years old,” said Poole. “She is fast, aggressive and very athletic. She has very good passing, defensive, and serving skills. Ivana has the experience to add depth in our setting and libero position. We felt it was important to add more depth in our setting position and, while that position is going to be inexperienced, Ivana gives us another option to consider. We also felt it was a win/win situation with her libero experience because both Ashley and Kelli will be juniors this season.”
About the Outside Hitters
While the setters are a bit thin, Arkansas may be most deep at the hitter position. This year’s offensive threat comes from seniors Brewer and Koleva along with junior Jessica Dorrell and sophomores Christina Lawrence and Kristin Seaton.
“Easily our most experienced group and the success of our team will rely heavily on our outsides hitters, both on the left and right side,” said Poole. “Denny, Kele, Jessica, Christina are all returning starters from last season and all four can play both the left and right side. This will give us a lot of options for our serve receive and line-ups.”
Forty percent of last year’s kills were attributed to Koleva and Brewer and they ranked first and second, respectively on the team. Koleva recorded the top five single match kill totals last year highlighted by a career-best 27 kills against Kansas State in a five-game thriller in Barnhill Arena early in the year. She also had plus-20 kill matches against South Carolina (24 kills) and Alabama (23 kills) last year.
Brewer’s kill totals were down a bit from her previous two seasons as the Castroville, Texas, native recorded 317 kills compared to 356 her freshman year and 339 as a sophomore, but her service aces, dig totals and blocking numbers were all career-bests last year.
Koleva and Brewer also became members of the 1,000-kill club at Arkansas last year with Koleva ranking ninth all-time with 1139 kills and Brewer checking in at number 11 with 1012 career kills.
“Denny and Kele have been three year starters for us going into their senior season,” said Poole. “They have been part of great success and their leadership will be counted on heavily, both on and off the court. We expect both of them to fight for a full rotation position and hope that this summer has paid off with continued work on their overall ball control.”
Dorrell also continues to come on strong for Arkansas. Although the Aledo, Texas, native is not usually the primary focus of opponent defenses, Dorrell quietly puts up big numbers for the Lady Razorbacks. She improved her kill totals from her freshman campaign getting 271 last year to average 2.17 kills per game. Also up were her blocking numbers creeping over the one block per game milestone to 1.03 bpg last year.
“Jessica is a two time starter that is returning as a junior and we expect her to have another great season,” Poole added. “Jess led us in hitting percentage her freshman year and the first half of her sophomore season when an injury slowed her for the remainder of the season. She should have her jump back up from the spring and summer and we look for her to again be playing high above the net. Jessica has also improved her serve and backcourt defense to the point that she will also push for extra playing time full rotation.”
Lawrence checks back into the Arkansas lineup from Sullivan, Mo. The multi-sport athlete redshirted her first season at Arkansas to play basketball but returned to the volleyball court full-time last year. Her inaugural season got out to a fast start as she earned all-tournament team honors and a pair of SEC Freshman of the Week awards.
“Christina was the surprise of last season,” said Poole. “Although she came to Arkansas with great athleticism, she had never played club ball and had a lot to learn about the speed of the collegiate game. Christina was very determined during her red-shirt season in 2004 and came in with a bang in 2005 by earning all-tournament in our first tournament and her first taste of competitive volleyball. She has a lot of potential and we look forward to her continued growth the next three years.”
Seaton rounds out the Arkansas outside hitters. The Fort Smith, Ark., native is really the dark horse of the bunch and was expected to surprise opponents this year. An off-season accident, however, has sidelined the second-year player and she is expected to miss the entire season in 2006.
About the Middle Blockers
Arkansas’ roster has three middles listed in senior Allison, redshirt freshman Destiny Clark and true freshman Catherine Fowler. Last year, Allison teamed with then-senior Karla Crose to handle much of the middle duties but this season, Allison will carry a heavier load and also guide the newcomers in this important position.
Allison’s first two seasons with the Lady’Backs saw the Oklahoma native serve as a role player but her duties were expanded last year and Allison responded to the challenge.
“Amy is our only returning all-conference player from last season and really showed her improvement over her freshman and sophomore season,” said Poole. “She was determined to step up big and it made a difference in our season and we will again court heavily on Amy’s experience both on and off the court. Amy has very high expectations for herself this season and has dedicated this summer to being in the best shape of her life. She’ll have to be a go-to player for us this season and will draw the assignment of trying to stop the top middle from each opponent.
Clark checks into the Arkansas lineup as a redshirt freshman. The gifted Kansas native was Poole’s diamond-in-the-rough last year and a season’s worth of training combined with spring playing opportunities have polished her playing skills.
Fowler was so excited about becoming a Lady Razorback that she graduated high school a semester early and joined the team in January. She has a jump start on other freshman having played all spring with the team.
“While Amy’s experience gives her a head start, we are excited about the potential of our two other middles,” continued Poole. “Destiny and Catherine are two of the most athletic middles in the country. Both these ladies jump over 10 feet and have a tremendous future. Although both are only a freshman in eligibility, we expect them to push for a starting position. The quicker they can continue to adapt to the speed of the game, the more playing time they will see on the court. All three of these young ladies have a chance to contribute this season and we look forward to the competition in pre-season for the two middle blocker positions.”
About the Liberos
The position of libero is still relatively new to the collegiate game and fans often wonder about the player in the opposite colored jersey. But the libero has significantly changed the game and Ashley Miller has forever changed the make up of the Lady Razorbacks.
In two seasons, Miller has rewritten Arkansas’ dig records. She holds the top spot for digs in a match with 32 breaking one of the program’s oldest records last year. In addition, Miller holds the top seven spots for digs in a five game match, the top two places for single season digs and ranks fifth with 1,058 career digs in just two seasons.
“Ashley is on her way to breaking most every digging stat that we have,” said Poole. “She is the most experienced defensive player we have had in the program and her presence on the court is recognized by every team we play. Ashley is the heart of the team and a lot of our emotion and aggressiveness starts with how she plays the game.”
Miller is not alone in her defensive prowess or her ability to spark the team. She is joined by junior Kelli Cole, an Arkansas native and true Lady Razorback.
Cole, more of a role player for the Lady’Backs in her first two seasons, is known for her ability to fire up the team whether she’s on the court or on the sideline. She’s willing to sacrifice her body and layout for a ball and always brings a lift to the team.
“Kelli has made incredible improvement over the last two years and we are very confident in her being out on the court,” said Poole. “How much time we can play the extra defensive specialist will depend greatly on the decision we make with a 5-1 or 6-2 offense. Both these young ladies respect each other and work hard together in every drill. It is nice to see the healthy competition they bring to the court every day.”
Arkansas scrimmages with Alumni
The Alumni always give the Lady’Backs a run for their money and the “old-timers” will again be composed of several standout players. Some of the players who are expected to play include Sara Kincaid and Michelle Coens who are both in the Northwest Arkansas area.
Lady’Backs open at Sooner Legends Nike Invitational
Arkansas officially opens the season at the Oklahoma Tournament facing the host Sooners, Idaho and North Carolina.
Oklahoma finished last season with a 230-10 record and an 18-4 mark in Big 12 play. The Sooner return six starters and 11 letterwinners to a very deep team.
Arkansas versus the Sooners
Arkansas leads the all-time series record 2-0 and won the last meeting in 2002 in three games.
Idaho went 16-14 and 8-8 in the Western Athletic Conference last year under sixth-year head coach Debbie Buchanan. The Vandals return nine letterwinners and five starters from a year ago.
Arkansas versus the Vandals
The is the first meeting between Arkansas and Idaho.
About North Carolina
North Carolina reached the first round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, finishing with a 23-10 record. The were 18-4 in Atlantic Coast Conference action and return 10 letterwinners and four starters from 2005.
Arkansas versus the Tar Heels
Arkansas trails in the all-time series 0-1 with the Tar Heels winning the only meeting in 2003 in four games.
Arkansas in season openers
Arkansas is 9-3 in season openers. Two of the three season-opening losses have come at the hands of ranked opponents (No. 2 Penn State and No. 14 Colorado State). The Lady’Backs are 5-1 when opening at home, 1-1 in away season openers and 3-1 on a neutral court.
The home opener
Arkansas returns home hosting the Arkansas Invitational Aug. 31-Sept. 2, welcoming Sacramento State, Stephen F. Austin and Southeast Missouri State
Arkansas in home openers
The Lady Razorbacks are 11-1 all-time in home openers. The lone loss came in 2004 against Kansas in Barnhill Arena.
New-look SEC schedule
The Southeastern Conference schedule changed this year and teams will play a double-round robin. Each SEC team plays a home-and-home with the other 10 conference schools, so Arkansas travels to each of the other 10 schools this year and all travel to Fayetteville. The change brings the number of conference matches to 20, up from 16 last year.
Another tough schedule awaits
Arkansas faces nine NCAA Tournament teams this year. The schedule is highlighted by Tennessee who reached the semifinals before being eliminated by eventual national champion Washington. Florida advanced to the elite eight and the perennial powerhouse Gators are loaded for the 2005 season. North Carolina, Sacramento State, Kansas, BYU, Kentucky, LSU and Alabama all reached the NCAA Tournament but fell in the first round.
As last season ended…
Here’s a recap of where the Lady’Backs ranked in the final team and individual stats and standings for the SEC in 2005.
In All Matches
The Lady’Backs finished the year ranked first in blocks per game last year with a 3.28 average. Arkansas was fourth in win-loss percentage (.636), fifth in hitting percentage (.231), sixth in kills (14.86) and opponent hitting percentage (.197), seventh in assists (13.22), eighth in digs (14.72) and 11th in service aces (0.97).
Amy Allison ranked first in blocks per game in all matches averaging 1.83. Karla Crose finished her career last year and was ranked sixth (1.28), Ashley Miller ranked fifth in digs per game (4.31).
Allison finished the year ranked second in the nation in blocks per game as well. See the chart to the right
In SEC-Only Matches
Arkansas was again first in SEC-only matches for blocking with a 3.26 bpg average. Arkansas ranked fourth in win-loss percentage (.688), fifth in opponent hitting percentage (.195) sixth in kills (14.56) seventh in digs (15.11), hitting percentage (.204) and assists 12.97) and 11th in service aces (1.00).
Allison again paced the league in blocks with a 1.88 bpg average. Crose was seventh (1.22). Miller ranked sixth in digs (4.29) and Denitza Koleva was eighth in service aces (.33)
Strong blocking leads Lady’Backs
Arkansas finished the year ranked 12th in the nation in blocks per game (see the chart at the bottom of the page). The Lady’Backs averaged 3.28 blocks per game as a team paced by senior Amy Allison (see the chart at the right of the page).
As the season begins…
Arkansas begins the year with a pair of Lady’Backs who have eclipsed the 1,000-kill plateau. Seniors Denitza Koleva and Kele Brewer both bettered the mark with Koleva at 1,139 and Brewer at 1,012 as the season begins. Koleva ranks ninth while Brewer is 11th all-time.
Ashley Miller has re-written the dig record books. She holds the school record for single match digs (32 vs. Utah) and the top two marks for individual in a single season (548, 2005; 510, 2004). Miller ranks fifth all-time for career digs (1,058) and is one of just six Lady’Backs who have more than 1,000 career digs.
Injury bug bites early
Arkansas is suffering a bit from the injury bug as the preseason practices begin. Sophomore Christina Lawrence had surgery on the second day of practice after tearing her meniscus. She is expected to be sidelined three weeks and the team is looking forward to a possible return the second week of the season.
Sophomore Kristin Seaton was lost for the season after an ATV accident this summer. She will redshirt this year but return to campus to attend classes.
Senior Denitza Koleva has been slowed with a toe injury that continues to improve each day and senior Amy Allison has been sidelined with back spasms. She is day-to-day.