FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Arkansas volleyball team returns to its home court at Barnhill Arena Friday evening to open the 2010 season against UMKC with first serve scheduled for 7 p.m. The match will be part of the two-day Arkansas Invitational which also features the teams from Grambling State and Samford.
After Friday’s season opener, the Razorbacks get back to action the next day for two matches. On Saturday, Arkansas will play Grambling State at 12:30 p.m. and close out the tournament with a 7 p.m. matchup with Samford.
"We’ve had a good preseason and now we’re just ready to play," head coach Robert Pulliza said. "I feel good about where we are heading into this first match after a really good preseason, one of the most fun I’ve had as a coach. The players showed a great commitment level throughout the practice schedule which adds a lot to the training environment. As a staff, we feel very good about the type of preseason we’ve had. Do we still need to get better? No doubt about it, but I like where we are as a team going into our first match Friday."
The Razorbacks’ roster features nine returning letterwinners from last season, including 2009 All-American and Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year Jasmine Norton. The sophomore outside hitter paces Arkansas’ offensive attack along with junior Kelli Stipanovich and sophomore Amanda Anderson. The team brings back approximately 78 percent of its offense (in total kills) from last season.
In the SEC preseason coaches’ poll, Arkansas was picked to finish third in the Western Division behind defending conference champion LSU and Auburn. Norton was also recognized by the league’s head coaches, earning a spot on the preseason All-SEC team.
With the graduation of 2009 seniors Lindsay Scanlan and Kristin Seaton, the Razorbacks will play without a senior on the team for the first time since the 1995 season.
"I’m really curious to see how mature we are," Pulliza said. "We’ll have freshmen and sophomores on the court with just one junior, so I’m curious to see how our sophomores have matured after a full year and the amount of reps they had on the court. From what I’ve seen on the practice court, they have matured significantly, so I’m looking forward to see their growth when the lights come on."
The Razorbacks welcome seven newcomers to this year’s team. Alex Fitzmorris, Hayley Koop, Clarissa Pavey, Raymariely Santos and Charmaine Whitmore were part of Pulliza’s signing class in November. Brooke Fournier is a late summer addition while Adriana Vazquez is a junior transfer from Hampton University. Fitzmorris and Vazquez have been with the team since January.
Arkansas leads the all-time series with UMKC, 2-0, with the last match between the two teams coming in 2001, a four-set win by the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. Arkansas defeated Grambling State last season in straight sets in the program’s only meeting with the Tigers. The Razorbacks have never played Samford.
"UMKC has a lot of starters returning (from last season) and they were picked to finish third in (the Summit League," Pulliza said. "I think they’re a team that could win their conference. That can be said for all three opponents this weekend. This is going to be a very exciting tournament because all three of the teams we’re going to play can win their respective league. I expect UMKC to play like a veteran team and they are coached well so they will come out Friday and give us a battle."
Season tickets for the 2010 volleyball season are available by calling the Arkansas Ticket Office at 800-982-HOGS or online at ArkansasRazorbacks.com. Single-match tickets are $4 for general admission. Follow Pulliza on Twitter (@RobertPulliza) and, for continued updates and information, log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.