The University of Arkansas added one of the nation’s top recruiters to its athletic staff when Robert Pulliza was introduced as the head coach of Razorback Volleyball on July 11, 2008. Pulliza, one of just a handful of coaches in the country to play and coach in the Final Four, is the second head coach in program history.
As a player, Pulliza was a two-year captain for the Ball State men’s volleyball team and helped lead the Cardinals to the NCAA Final Four in 1994 and 1995. Then as an assistant coach at Wisconsin, Pulliza helped guide the Badgers to the Final Four during the 2000 season.
Through eight seasons at the helm of the Arkansas program, Pulliza has led his team to two NCAA Tournament appearances in 2012 and 2013 and seen his student-athletes collect six AVCA All-America accolades, 13 AVCA All-South Region certificates and 17 All-SEC honors. Among those awards, Jasmine Norton was the 2009 Freshman of the Year for both the AVCA All-South Region and SEC, Amanda Anderson capped her career as the 2012 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and most recently, Okiana Valle was named the 2015 AVCA All-South Region Freshman of the Year.
Currently in his eighth season in Fayetteville, Pulliza added another key moment in program history when the Razorbacks broke a 16-year absence from the national poll with a No. 22 ranking in the Oct. 5 AVCA Top 25. During its 2015 campaign, Arkansas produced top-30 victories with wins over No. 9 Florida, No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 26 Kansas State. Pulliza is one of five active head coaches in the SEC with a win over each of the other league teams. Individually, the Razorbacks added a pair of all-conference performers in 2015 with Pilar Victoria earning All-SEC honors while Valle earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team.
On Oct. 11, 2014, Pulliza reached a milestone of his own when he recorded his 100th win as the Razorbacks’ head coach with a five-set win over Georgia at Barnhill Arena. Pulliza is the first Puerto Rico-born head coach in history at a BCS-conference institution, the first one to lead a team to the NCAA Tournament and the first to collect 100 career wins at a BCS school.
Under Pulliza, the Razorbacks’ success has also translated to academic excellence. The program earned its third-consecutive public recognition award from the NCAA when the 2015 APR success list was released. The team made program history with its first-ever AVCA Team Academic Award after posting a 3.405 cumulative grade-point average for the 2014-15 academic year. Between the SEC academic honor rolls, Pulliza has seen his student-athlete rack up 60 accolades.
Pulliza entered the 2015 season off a summer tour with the Puerto Rico National Team where he served as the program’s assistant coach. Among the highlights, he helped lead Puerto Rico to a fourth-place finish at the XVII Pan American Games in Toronto. The finish represented the country’s first-ever appearance in the medal rounds. Pulliza was also on the bench for the first two legs of the FIVB World Grand Prix, helping Puerto Rico qualify for the Group 2 Finals in Poland, and for the team’s trip to Havana, Cuba, for the NORCECA Champions Cup.
On the recruiting front, Pulliza has added eight top-100 players to the program including five that will appear on the 2015 roster. That list features Chanell Clark-Bibbs (No. 25, 2011), Breana Jones (No. 52, 2012), Liz Fortado (No. 75, 2011), Danielle Harbin (No. 78, 2012) and Ana Sofia Jusino (No. 79, 2011). Among his recruiting successes at Arkansas, the 2012 class was ranked first among SEC teams and No. 16 in the country for the highest ranking in program history.
Pulliza’s effect on the Arkansas program can also be measured by the team’s reflection in the Rating Percentage Index (RPI). When he took over in 2008, the Razorbacks were ranked No. 140. Since that time, Pulliza has taken Arkansas to as high as No. 16 in the RPI ranking on two occasions.
Using a fast-paced offense and building a competitive home schedule, Pulliza has built a fan-friendly brand of volleyball that brought in the fans to legendary Barnhill Arena. Nine of the top-10 home crowds in program history have been registered since the start of the 2010 season—including three in 2015—with the program record of 3,015 fans during the 2012 SEC home opener against No. 13 Florida.
In 2014, the Razorbacks capped their year with an All-American for the third-consecutive season with the selection of Meredith Hays who led the SEC with 4.34 kills per set. Hays became the second back-to-back All-American in program history. The three-year streak is the longest in program history. The duo of Hays and Clark-Bibbs also both earned AVCA All-Region and All-SEC accolades. Among its season’s highlights, Arkansas posted a road win at No. 20 Texas A&M in front of a national television audience on the SEC Network and a five-set win over Michigan to win the season-opening Arkansas Invitational.
The 2013 season saw Arkansas make a second-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, the program’s first back-to-back postseason appearances since the 2005 and 2006 seasons. In addition to AVCA All-America Honorable Mention performances Hays and Raymariely Santos, libero Emily Helm eclipsed the 1,000-dig mark in her two-year Razorback career and earned the second and third SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors of her career. Under Pulliza’s watch, Santos finished her career ranked second in assists (3,661), 12th in digs (933) and 18th in service aces (62).
Following the season, Pulliza continued the program’s recent trend of seeing its seniors extend their careers into the professional ranks. Santos and fellow 2013 senior Ashley Vazquez became the seventh and eighth Razorbacks to sign with a professional league. That list also includes Anderson, Norton, Roslandy Acosta, Kasey Heckelman, Kelli Stipanovich and Janeliss Torres-Lopez. Vazquez has won back-to-back league titles in 2014 and 2015 with Caguas in the Puerto Rico league.
In 2012, Pulliza guided the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament and posted a 22-10 overall record with a 13-7 tally in Southeastern Conference play. Both win totals represent highs for the program under Pulliza’s watch. The 20-win season is the first for Arkansas since the 2005 season, three years prior to Pulliza arriving in Fayetteville. The trip to the NCAA Tournament was the program’s first since 2006.
Individually, Acosta and Norton were recognized as All-Americans by the AVCA and named to the All-SEC First and Second Teams, respectively. Conference honors continued with Anderson being named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Fortado earning a spot on the All-Freshman Team. Arkansas’ four SEC selections represent the program’s largest single-season collection since 2003.
Under Pulliza’s watch, Norton became just the second player in program history to be selected to the All-SEC Team all four years of her career and the first to be recognized with two AVCA All-America honors. She finished her career as the second-most prolific attacker in program history and No. 8 on the all-time SEC list with 1,799 career kills. Norton also became just the sixth Arkansas player with 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs.
Pulliza continued to guide his team toward joining the nation’s elite in 2011. At season’s end, Arkansas owned an 18-13 overall record and a 10-win SEC tally. At the time, the conference total was the most by the program since the league went to the double round-robin format. The Razorbacks finished second in the SEC Western Division and fifth overall, the team’s best conference finish since the 2005 season.
Individually, Norton, a preseason All-SEC selection, and Kelli Stipanovich capped their respective seasons by earning All-SEC honors. Norton was named to the All-SEC First Team and Stipanovich, the fourth all-conference performer under Pulliza, was named to the All-SEC Second Team. For the first time since 2003, Arkansas had two players on either the league’s First- or Second-Team. Norton added to her collection of honors with a selection to COBRA Magazine’s Midsouth All-Region Team.
In his third season at the helm of the Arkansas volleyball program, Pulliza guided the youthful 2010 Razorbacks to a fourth-place finish in the Western Division and a seventh-place overall conference finish. All six conference teams ahead of Arkansas advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
With a roster that featured no seniors in 2010, Pulliza saw two of his underclassmen standouts recognized by the SEC coaches at the end of the season. Norton earned a spot on the All-SEC Second Team, the second such honor of her career, and Santos became the ninth player in Razorback history to earn SEC All-Freshman honors. She joined Anderson and Norton as the three all-freshman selections for Pulliza at that time; Fortado became the fourth in 2012.
During the season, Norton led the SEC offensively with 3.83 kills per set. With the accomplishment, she became the first player in Arkansas volleyball history to lead the conference in kills per set over the course of an entire season. At her setter position, Santos earned two Freshman of the Week awards and one Defensive Player of the Week selection. Freshman Brooke Fournier was also selected to the USA Junior A2 National Team that competed in Europe during the summer of 2011.
In 2009, on the talents of the youngest roster since the program’s inaugural season, the Razorback volleyball team took tremendous strides during Pulliza’s second year as head coach. Picked to finish 10th in the Southeastern Conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Razorbacks exceeded all expectations to post the sixth-best record in the league.
As impressive as the team’s development, the emergence of Norton as Arkansas’ go-to player on the outside was instrumental to the team’s success. Norton was a member of Pulliza’s first recruiting class at Arkansas, which was ranked in the nation’s top 45 by PrepVolleyball.com.
During her first season in Cardinal and White, Norton became the sixth All-American in Razorback program history when she was selected as an Honorable Mention performer by the AVCA. In addition to her national recognition, Norton was named the SEC and South Region Freshman of the Year, earned a spot on the All-SEC Second Team and garnered All-South Region Honorable Mention accolades. During the season, the Rowlett, Texas, native set an SEC record by earning six league Freshman of the Week awards, all of which came during conference play.
That initial group of recruits also included Anderson, the very first commitment for Pulliza as Arkansas’ head coach. Anderson and Norton were both named to the SEC All-Freshman Team, the seventh and eighth All-Freshman selections in program history. During the season, Anderson earned all-tournament honors at the TCU Invitational and Arkansas Invitational, the latter resulting in the 6-2 middle blocker being named the SEC Freshman of the Week.
Pulliza’s first season with the Razorback Nation included a pair of SEC sweeps and his first foray into the SEC Coaches’ Beach Volleyball Championship. He also helped then-freshman Stipanovich earn a spot on the USA Junior A2 National Team that traveled to Europe during the summer of 2009.
In addition to his success at the collegiate level, Pulliza has also gained international experience with the Puerto Rico and USA National Team programs. In 2000 and 2001, he was an assistant with the USA Youth National Team, with the 2000 team earning a silver medal at the NORCCA Zonal Championship. Pulliza went on to serve as an assistant coach with the USA National A2 team in the summer of 2003.
He also has experience with Team USA, serving as the head coach for the USA Development Team in 2012 at the 2nd Annual BIP Challenge in China. During the tour, Pulliza and his team, which included Norton, competed against the professional teams from Liaoning, Shanghai and Tianjin.
In the summer of 2010 and with Pulliza on staff, the Puerto Rico Youth National Team won the bronze medal at the NORCECA Girls’ Youth Continental Championship. The top-three finish ensured a trip to the 2011 FIVB Youth World Championship in Turkey. In February 2010, Pulliza was part of the coaching staff that took the Puerto Rico Junior National Team to Lima, Peru, to compete in the Summer Cup. The team played Chile, the Dominican Republic and Peru, picking up a win against the Chilean team. As well as his assistant coach duties, Pulliza has also served as a consultant for Puerto Rico.
For the past four seasons, Pulliza has served as a member of the AVCA Postseason Awards Committee for the South Region. He added further duties with the AVCA prior to the 2015 season when he took on the responsibility of becoming a voter in the Division I coaches’ Top 25 poll.
Pulliza has also been involved in the Northwest Arkansas community since arriving in Fayetteville. Along with his wife, he established the Robert and Jamie Pulliza Opportunity Scholarship in 2009. The scholarship was established for a non-athlete attending the University of Arkansas based on academic achievement, leadership and community engagement. Hayden Herrera was the first recipient of the scholarship and graduated from the University in 2012. In a further show of his dedication to the University and community, Pulliza is a member of the Athletic Director’s Council on Diversity. In 2012, El Latino, an Arkansas Times publication, named Pulliza to the Who’s Who list of the Latino Community in the state of Arkansas.
Pulliza came to Fayetteville after stops in some of the nation’s best programs, including, most recently, the University of Kentucky where he served as the associate head coach.
He was instrumental in re-energizing the Kentucky program upon his arrival in 2004. His recruiting prowess with the Wildcats was evident as his 2007 class was ranked No. 8 in the country. He followed with the 17th-ranked recruiting class in 2008. Pulliza’s class in 2006 was ranked 26th by PrepVolleyball.com.
One of the standouts from Pulliza’s initial recruiting class at Kentucky, setter Sarah Rumely, went on to be voted the 2008 SEC Player of the Year and two-time All-American. During her first season, Rumely was twice named the SEC Freshman of the Week en route to being named the SEC Freshman of the Year. Rumely joined the Razorbacks in 2015 as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
Kentucky made three NCAA tournament appearances in Pulliza’s three seasons for the first time in school history. In addition, Pulliza helped guide the Wildcats to a 20-win season for the first time since 1993. Kentucky had three consecutive 17-plus win seasons including back-to-back 19-win years and Pulliza coached nine All-SEC members and 10 All-SEC Academic honorees.
Pulliza’s college coaching career began in 1996 as an assistant coach at James Madison University. The Dukes began the season with an RPI outside the top 200 but ended the year with a No. 61 RPI ranking. He moved on to Northern Illinois for the 1998-99 season helping the Huskies to the Mid-American Conference regular season title and second round of the NCAA Tournament in 1998.
Pulliza’s next endeavor was in Madison, Wis., where he served as the recruiting coordinator and offensive coordinator for the Badgers from 1999-2001. He is credited with recruiting Volleyball Magazine’s sixth-best class in the country in 2001. In addition, Pulliza found himself on the sidelines as the Badgers won the Big Ten title and were in the NCAA Final Four Championship match in 2000.
The next stop for Pulliza was the University of Texas where he helped revitalize the Longhorn program. While serving as recruiting coordinator for the Longhorns, Pulliza signed Student Sports Magazine’s second-ranked recruiting class in the nation in 2003 and landed PrepVolleyball.com’s 13th-ranked class in 2004.
A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Pulliza is a 1996 graduate of Ball State with a degree in general studies. Pulliza received his master’s degree in athletics administration and coaching in 1998 from James Madison University. He is married to Jamie Pulliza, who is a speech pathologist. The couple resides in Fayetteville.