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Lady’Back volleyball faces challenges this weekend

BY ANDRES FOCIL
Lady’Back volleyball faces challenges this weekend

FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas volleyball team returns to Southeastern Conference action this weekend with road matches at No. 15 Tennessee and South Carolina Friday and Sunday. The Lady Razorbacks have played their best volleyball lately improving to 13-10 overall having won six matches in a row and 11 of their last 13. In addition Arkansas is 9-3 in the SEC leading the Western Division by a three-match margin over Alabama who is 6-6. Tennessee enters the match with its best record in recent memory at 22-2 overall and 11-1 in league play. The Lady Vols’ only loss came at the hands of higher-ranked Florida just a few weeks ago. "Tennessee has the best team they have had since we started volleyball in 1994," said Arkansas head coach Chris Poole. "They have all starters returning from last year, plus they added a very experienced player from Bulgaria. All their returning starters made a commitment to stay together throughout the summer and it was evident in how well they have played together this fall." The Lady Vols are currently second in the SEC Eastern Division and second overall in the conference standings trailing Florida who is 20-2 overall and a perfect 12-0 in conference play. Arkansas is third overall followed by Georgia at 7-5 and Bama at 6-6 in SEC play. Tennessee’s statistics are among the best in the SEC with the Lady Vols ranking second in team hitting percentage at .272 and second in lowest opponent hitting percentage with a .171 mark. Tennessee leads the SEC in assists, kills and digs this year. Arkansas, after a slow start thanks to one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year, has several strengths heading into the weekend. The Lady’Backs have built some momentum with recent wins and have swept their last four opponents in three games. In addition the team’s timing continues to improve. "Kele (Brewer) and Amanda (Eskridge) are starting to work themselves into shape after missing most of the preseason because of injuries," said Poole. "It has taken some time for the team to learn to play together, but our confidence has grown a lot in the last six weeks. We realize that every match is important at this point, so I would expect us to play very focused and hard this weekend. Both teams are very good at home and this is a tough road trip because of the distance involved, but we are playing as well as we have all season and looking forward to the challenge." Brewer missed several weeks of both practice and matches recovering from injuries suffered during preseason training. She has made a significant contribution to the lineup in recent matches with double-digit kills in nine of her last 11 matches including a career-best 20 against Kentucky Oct. 22 Eskridge was also slowed during the early part of the season with injuries but worked her way into the lineup when Poole went to a 6-2 offense with two setters. She and junior Iva Docekalova share the setting duties with both players equally capable of starting the match. Arkansas will also rely heavily on its defense this weekend in both contests. The Lady’Backs lead the SEC in blocks behind senior Jennifer Haaser, junior Karla Crose and sophomore Amy Allison. Haaser ranks third and Crose fifth in the league while Allison is also averaging more than one block a game. Freshman Ashley Miller is also emerging as an on-the-court leader for the Lady’Backs. The Vacaville, Calif., native leads the team in digging and ranks third in the SEC. She is on pace to set the freshman record as well as the individual season mark this year. Arkansas heads into the match wondering what a win over a top 15 team would do for them. ""We need to give the NCAA Committee a reason to select Arkansas when they hand out the bids in three weeks," said Poole. "We have an opportunity to play a top 15 team and therefore a chance to show the committee that we can compete at that level. We let some games slip away from us earlier in the year, so this another chance to redeem ourselves." The Lady Razorbacks continue SEC road action Sunday at noon Central with a match at South Carolina. The Carolina contest is also the SEC-TV match of the week and airs live on FSN. Both matches can be heard in the Fayetteville area on KXUA, 88.3 FM or on the internet at www.ladybacks.com.



Sports Category : Volleyball (W)