COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Arkansas awaits St. Mary’s in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Volleyball Championship in Columbia, Mo. The Lady Razorbacks were one of 33 at-large selections entering the tournament with a 20-11 overall record. The Gaels, also an at-large selection, are 19-9 and will make for a good opening round match-up for the Lady’Backs. The match is scheduled for a 5:30 p.m., start and can be heard in Northwest Arkansas on KXUA, 88.3 FM, and on the internet at LADYBACKS.COM. “We’re excited to be back in the NCAA Tournament,” said Arkansas head coach Chris Poole. “We certainly felt like we had earned a spot again this year but it doesn’t always mean you’ll be selected. St. Mary’s is a very good team and the mirror us in a lot of ways. They have a mixture of youth and experienced players and have similar numbers in blocking and defense.” Arkansas and St. Mary’s are both making their third consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The Lady’Backs were eliminated by No. 24 Missouri in Columbia, Mo., last year in the first round. This year, Arkansas again travels to Columbia for the opening rounds facing the Gaels Friday. Tenth-ranked Missouri hosts Missouri State at 7:30 p.m., Friday with the winners of both matches meeting at 5:30 p.m., Saturday. The Lady’Backs have historically been led by their blocking and this year is no exception. Junior Amy Allison leads the team and is ranked third in the country averaging 1.89 blocks per game with 219 total blocks this year. Allison is hitting.291 for the year with 2.11 kills per game. Senior Karla Crose ranks second on the team with 1.26 blocks per game and is third on the team hitting .264 this year. Arkansas, however, faces one of the best blocking teams on the other side of the net in St. Mary’s with four players averaging more than a block per game paced by Christina Kirk averaging 1.81 bpg this year. As a team the Gaels rank second in the country averaging 3.73 blocks per game with 51 block solos and 696 block assists. The Lady’Backs currently rank 11th in the country in blocking with Allison second among individuals. The Gaels’ Kirk ranks third in the nation behind Allison. “Amy has been a pleasant surprise for us this year,” said Poole. “She was injured much of her first two seasons and we really didn’t know what to expect. She has been very consistent game in and game out this year and has provided a big lift for us.” One of the biggest challenged facing Arkansas will be the tough serving of the Gaels. St. Mary’s has nearly 100 more service aces (212 to 120) than the Lady’Backs and tough serving teams have given Arkansas trouble this year. “St. Mary’s is a great serving team,” said Poole. “We’ve been working on countering that all week. We know we’ll have to have a good first touch and take their serve out of the equation.” Arkansas’ offense is led by juniors Denitza Koleva and Kele Brewer along with sophomore Jessica Dorell and freshman Christina Lawrence. The Lady’Backs will need everyone to be on to get by St. Mary’s. “We’ve relied on a balanced attack all year and we’ll again need everyone from this match on,” said Poole. The winner of Saturday’s match continues to the NCAA Regionals at Penn State University Dec. 9-10. For more information about Arkansas volleyball log on to LADYBACKS.COM.