FAYETTEVILLE – For the second consecutive match, the University of Arkansas volleyball team went the distance but Auburn came away with the five-set win (25-20, 18-25, 25-16, 18-25, 15-10) Sunday afternoon at Barnhill Arena. Kendall Cleveland collected her second double-double with 14 kills and 10 digs while Janeliss Torres-Lopez tallied a career-high 12 kills. This marks the fifth straight five-set match between the Western Division foes.
"The difference in the match was effort," head coach Robert Pulliza said. "The sets that we played our hardest, we performed and the sets that we didn’t, we gave away. (Auburn) is a tougher team than we are. That’s the bottom line. We’re just not tough enough yet."
In the decisive fifth set, the Tigers jumped out to a 6-2 lead. Arkansas (7-6, 1-1 SEC) responded to close its deficit to one after a service ace by Kelli Stipanovich. Holding a 9-8 lead, Auburn (10-4, 1-1 SEC) rattled off three points in a row to distance itself from the Hogs. To seal the victory, the Tigers won the final three points of the match, capped by a block from Lauren Mellor.
Auburn won the first three points of game one and never trailed in the set. A kill by the Tigers’ Alyssa Davis gave the visitors the 13-8 and forced Pulliza to call his first timeout of the match. Auburn maintained the advantage and pushed its lead to high seven. The Razorbacks saved two set points but on the third, Stipanovich knocked an attack wide and Auburn had the early lead.
In game two, Arkansas set the tone by winning four of the first five points. Three consecutive kills by Torres-Lopez put the Razorbacks ahead by five, 14-9. Out of an Auburn timeout, the home team capped a five-point run with a kill by Stipanovich. During the set, Stipanovich, Cleveland and Jasmine Norton combined for 13 kills to shoulder the offensive load. After leading by as many as eight points, Arkansas sealed the set and evened the match with a tandem block by Stipanovich and Torres-Lopez.
"Kendall Cleveland came back today with a great performance with another double-double," Pulliza said. "We’ve been asking her to step up and mature and she picked a good weekend to figure some things out and find her game. I’m really proud of Kendall for what she did this weekend."
Stymied in the first set, the Razorbacks’ offense rallied in game two with a .375 hitting percentage. Defensively, Arkansas held its opponent to .071 mark in the second set
With the score tied, 8-8, in the third game, Auburn began to separate with a four-point push. The Razorbacks pulled to within two after Norton found the floor with a kill but Auburn responded with three straight points to extend its lead back to five. On set point, Camila Jersonsky put away the ball to give the Tigers the game.
The momentum switched back in favor of the Razorbacks at the start of the fourth set. Amanda Anderson came in off the bench to give her team an 8-7 lead with a crosscourt kill. The teams traded points until the score was tied, 18-18. With Raymariely Santos at the service line, Arkansas closed out the set with a 7-0 spurt, including two aces by the Razorback setter, to even the match at two sets apiece.
Stipanovich and Norton both finished the match with 10 kills. Norton completed a double-double effort with 14 digs. Santos picked up the first double-double of her career with 39 assists and 13 digs. Torres-Lopez added five total blocks to her match figures while libero Brooke Fournier led the team with 16 digs.
"We’ll do the same thing we did last week in terms of getting back to the grind," Pulliza said. "We did a good job of getting back to our roots of really working hard. In the SEC, you can’t have breaks because you’ll end up paying for it."
With the first pair of SEC matchups in the books, the Razorbacks head out next weekend for their first road trip of the conference season with matches at division foes Mississippi State and Alabama. For continued updates about Arkansas volleyball, follow Pulliza on Twitter (@RobertPulliza) or log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.