FAYETTEVILLE – In its first road trip of the Southeastern Conference season, the University of Arkansas volleyball team will take on Mississippi State and Alabama. The Razorbacks open the weekend in Starkville, Miss., with a 7 p.m. match against Mississippi State. After a travel day, Arkansas (7-6, 1-1 SEC) will take on Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. First serve of the weekend finale is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
"It’s always tough on the road in the SEC," head coach Robert Pulliza said. "Not only are you playing good opponents but you’re playing in front of good crowds that can create a hostile environment. The teams that can thrive in those environments end up celebrating at the end of the year, so we have to get on the road and learn to embrace those moments."
Jasmine Norton continues to pace the Razorbacks’ offense, and is second in the SEC, with 3.98 kills per set. She leads the conference with 207 total putaways. During the conference-opening weekend, Kendall Cleveland tallied a pair of double-double performances including an 18-kill, 12-dig effort against Georgia. Both figures are career-high marks for the sophomore outside hitter. As a team, Arkansas carries a .233 hitting percentage.
Defensively, Janeliss Torres-Lopez has emerged in the middle for the Razorbacks with 1.32 blocks per set. She tallied eight total blocks in the SEC opener against Georgia; the team posted its fifth double-digit mark in the match with 12.5 blocks. Libero Brooke Fournier averages 3.24 digs per set. In Arkansas’ last match, four players had at least 10 digs.
"We need to have more consistency in our defensive effort," Pulliza said. "We need to be better in our focus. Defensive effort creates an environment of competitive edge so we need to keep working on that."
Mississippi State (8-4, 0-1) lost in four sets to Ole Miss in its conference opener last weekend. The Bulldogs are currently on a three-match skid with setbacks at Southeast Missouri and Southern Miss in their matches leading into the SEC season. Individually, Caitlin Rance is third in the conference with 3.98 kills per set and Ashley Newsome is second in the league with 1.27 blocks per set. As a team, Mississippi State is third in the SEC with 15.49 digs per set, paced by libero Kayla Woodard (4.49 d/s).
In the preseason coaches’ release, the Bulldogs were picked to finish fifth in the Western Division. Last season, the teams split their two meetings with each winning on its home court in four sets. Arkansas leads the all-time series, 29-4, and holds a 13-3 edge in matches played in Starkville.
Alabama (8-3, 0-1) enters the weekend off a straight-set loss to Ole Miss in its first match of the conference slate. The defeat snapped a seven-match win streak. The Crimson Tide will host LSU Friday before the Razorbacks travel to Tuscaloosa for the weekend finale. Preseason All-SEC selection Alyssa Meuth is eighth in the conference with 3.19 kills per set and 10th in the league with a .326 hitting percentage. Kayla Fitterer averages 3.27 k/s, the sixth-best mark in the SEC, and libero Kelsey Anderson is third in the SEC with 4.92 digs per set.
The Crimson Tide was picked sixth in the Western Division by the league’s coaches. In a pair of five-set match last season, Arkansas came away with the victory in both cases. The Razorbacks have a 27-7 advantage in the all-time series with Alabama, and are 10-5 in Tuscaloosa.
This weekend marks the first of two consecutive road trips for the Razorbacks. Fans can follow the volleyball team and its progress during the weekend with the audio stream, interactive blog and live stats available at ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
Download: Notes 7_Miss State, Alabama.pdf