FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Arkansas volleyball team pushed No. 1 Florida to four sets Friday night at Barnhill Arena but the Gators came away with the 3-1 win (25-17, 25-27, 25-11, 25-20). Jasmine Norton and Kelli Stipanovich tallied 15 and 11 kills, respectively, to pace the Razorbacks’ offense. In the middle, Amanda Anderson and Charmaine Whitmore each posted seven kills.
The attendance for Friday night’s Arkansas-Florida match was 1,263, the third-largest home crowd in program history. It marks the third time this season the Razorbacks have drawn over 1,000 fans at Barnhill Arena. Three of the top six home attendance figures have come this season.
With her first kill in the fourth set, Stipanovich moved past former Razorback All-American Sara Kincaid (2002-03) into 17th place on the program’s all-time kills list. With her performance against the Gators, Stipanovich now has 867 career kills.
"I think we got better as a team tonight," head coach Robert Pulliza said. "Florida is a very good team. They are physical and consistent and it shows why they are the No. 1 team in the country. I’m proud of our team’s performance in set two after losing the first set. That game could have gone either way."
Arkansas (13-16, 7-11 SEC) opened the match going toe-for-toe with the top-ranked team in the country. After a solo block by Stipanovich and a back-row kill from Norton, the Razorback took an 8-6 lead. However, Florida (25-1, 18-0 SEC) responded won six of the next seven points to take control of the set. The visitors later used a 5-0 run to stretch their lead to eight, the largest of the game. The Gators closed out the set, 25-17, with a kill by Callie Rivers.
The Razorbacks responded with a victory in game two, its first set win against Florida since beating the Gators in 2007. The opening stages of the set were similar to the opener with both teams trading points until Arkansas used a quick three-point surge to push ahead. A kill by Norton gave the home team an 11-8 lead and forced a timeout from the Florida bench. The Gators fought back to tie the score and eventually take the lead, 15-14, on a tandem block.
It would be the last lead of the set for Florida. With the score tied at 17-17, the Razorbacks used another three-point spurt to nose back ahead. As they did before, the Gators pulled back even and the fight for the game was on. Arkansas’ sideout kept the team ahead and after Stipanovich and Whitmore combined for a block of Kelly Murphy, the Razorbacks grabbed a set point, their first of three. Finally, Norton posted the final point to give Arkansas the set, 27-25, and send the teams into the locker rooms tied at one set a piece.
"Our players showed maturity (in set two)," Pulliza said. "We made some adjustments after losing the first set. The bright spot is we matched up physically with the best team in the country. Our team volleyball just needs to keep growing and that comes from being in the gym together."
Out of the intermission, the Gators charged out to regain control of the match. Behind the serve of Cassandra Anderson, Florida rattled off seven consecutive points to take a 16-5 lead. Florida maintained its double-digit lead throughout the set behind its .522 hitting percentage. Murphy and Lauren Bledsoe combined for a block on set point to send the match to the fourth set.
After some early back-and-forth play in the beginning of game four, the Gators began to open their lead and after an attack error by Stipanovich, Pulliza called a timeout with Florida’s lead at six. The Razorbacks began to claw back and pulled to within three points on two occasions but could get no closer. On match point, Kristy Jaeckel found the floor to give Florida the win.
"I also want to thank our crowd," Pulliza said. "They had great energy today and were a big part of our success against Florida."
The Razorbacks return to their home court Sunday afternoon for a matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks. First serve of the Southeastern Conference contest is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. (CT) at Barnhill Arena. Phoebe Bautista and Mackenzie Rhea will be recognized for their respective Razorback careers in a pre-match ceremony. For more information, log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.