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FAYETTEVILLE – It was unlikely. It was improbable. But it happened. The University of Arkansas volleyball team upset fifth-ranked Florida in five games in a thrilling victory in Barnhill Arena Friday.
Arkansas, who was just 2-6 in the SEC, notched the 31-29, 32-30, 20-30, 12-30, 20-18 win over the previously undefeated Gators. Arkansas improved to 9-10 on the year and 3-6 in the Southeastern Conference while Florida fell to 16-1 overall and 9-1 in league play.
“This match just exemplifies the season,” said Arkansas head coach Chris Poole. “We played hard in the first two games and showed what type of potential we have. But we let up in the third and fourth games and that too has been typical of this team. It was great to see the team step up and play hard in the fifth game. I hope this will be a key to turning the season around.”
The victory over Florida is Arkansas second-ever in program history. The first was a three-game win at the SEC Championship match in Athens, Ga., in 1997.
Game five was a model for the entire match. Trailing early and big, Arkansas dug a hole that looked almost impossible to climb out of.
Down 4-1, Poole burned his first timeout to rally the team but Florida continued to control the game, opening an 8-4 lead as the teams changed benches at the half-way point.
But that’s when the come back began. A kill from junior Christina Lawrence, followed by a block from Lawrence and sophomore Catherine Fowler was followed by an ace from junior Nicole Martin as Arkansas closed the gap.
Florida called its first timeout but Arkansas had the momentum and the crowd of 735 behind them. The battle raged on until Arkansas tied the game at 14 with a block from senior Jessica Dorrell and freshman Sarah Freudenrich as the Lady’Backs’ balanced attack continued.
With both coaches out of timeouts, it was up to the players on the court. The teams battled through five ties and five match points but Lawrence’s kill through the middle of the Gator defense gave Arkansas the final lead. Dorrell finished the match with a deep dump giving Arkansas the win.
“Jessica refused to let us lose in game five,” said Poole. “We really needed her to step up and she did. As for Christina, we decided to let her play a bit in game one and we won so we just thought we’d see how far she could go. We literally picked her up off the court last Friday and to think she played five games is really a miracle.”
Arkansas was balanced all night with Dorrell leading the team with 23 kills, nine digs and three blocks. Lawrence and freshman Heather Royal added 13 kills each with Royal tallying a season/career-best 15 digs in the win.
Freudenrich added seven kills and eight blocks while senior Ashley Miller led the team with 23 digs in the win. Arkansas hit just .119 to the Gators’ .247 and Florida out-blocked the Lady’Backs 17.5-11.0.
Statistically speaking, the first game was not good for either team but Arkansas came away with the only stat that mattered – more points.
Florida had several five point leads in the first game but Arkansas closed the gap around the 20-point mark with the Gators taking their first time out up 20-17. A couple of Gator hitting errors, they hit just .132 for the game, helped the Lady’Backs scratch their way back to a 21-all tie.
The teams traded points with five more ties down the stretch. The Gators had game point leading 29-28, but a blistering kill from Royal tied the game. Arkansas got a block from Royal and Fowler to take the lead.
Lawrence, who was questionable for the match, threaded a kill down the line handed Arkansas the game one win.
Florida found its grove in the early going of game two opening a 7-3 lead but again Arkansas clawed back tying the stanza at nine. The back-and-forth exchange continued until the very end. Tied at 27, Florida took a timeout having surrendered a four-point lead.
The Gators edged ahead with a tip and a booming kill from Florida’s Kisya Killingsworth for the two-point advantage. But Dorrell answered the call with a kill and tied the score at 29 with an ace serve that fell at the feet of a Gator player.
An Arkansas hitting error handed the lead back to Florida but Lawrence stepped up with a kill to the middle of the defense again tying things. A Gator hitting error gave Arkansas the advantage. It was followed by a long rally and another Florida hitting error as Arkansas escaped with the game two win, 32-30.
Arkansas woke the sleeping giant in the third game as the Gators exploded out of the gates taking a 5-0 lead, then up 7-2, but the Lady’Backs regained some momentum and tied the frame at 10.
That’s when Florida really came to life. The Gators, who made several lineup changes to start the game, outhit Arkansas .317-.040 as the unforced errors reared their ugly head. Arkansas committed 10 hitting errors, two service errors and struggled with a much more effective Florida serve in the third game as the Gators stayed alive.
Florida carried their momentum into the fourth game with a 10-3 lead to start the stanza and the Lady’Backs were never able to recover. Arkansas’ unforced errors continued while Florida seemed to dig every Lady’Back attack.
Lawrence caught fire late in the frame but the Lady’Back deficit was too great to overcome sending Florida to a game five for the first time this season. The Gators finished game four with seven service aces as the Lady’Backs struggled to return a serve.
Arkansas’ SEC home stand continues Sunday as the Lady’Backs host South Carolina in a 1:30 p.m. match in Barnhill Arena. For more information about Arkansas volleyball please log on to LADYBACKS.COM.