FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Arkansas volleyball team lost to Kentucky Friday evening in four sets (25-22, 28-26, 21-25, 25-15) at Barnhill Arena. Kelli Stipanovich had a team-high 16 kills and Janeliss Torres-Lopez added 10 kills out of the middle. Raymariely Santos posted a double-double with 38 assists and team-high 13 digs. Defensively, Roslandy Acosta led the team’s efforts at the net with six total blocks.
"We were not very tough tonight," head coach Robert Pulliza said. "We didn’t fight hard enough and we knew that would be a very important part of our game tonight against a team like Kentucky. We have to be very tough and play hard but we just didn’t have that tonight."
In the first set, Kentucky (13-3, 4-1 SEC) jumped out to an early four-point advantage and led 13-9 after a kill on the outside by Ashley Frazier. The Razorbacks responded to win the next five points and with a kill by Torres-Lopez, Arkansas (10-5, 2-2 SEC) took a 14-13 lead to force a timeout by the Wildcats.
A ball-handling error by Kentucky setter Christine Hartmann gave the Razorbacks a three-point lead, 21-18. The visitors rallied to win the next five points and take control of the opening set. On their first set point, the Wildcats clinched the 25-22 win with a kill by Becky Pavan. The first set between the two teams featured 11 ties and nine lead changes.
After dropping the first point of game two, Arkansas won nine of the next 12 points and with a kill by Jasmine Norton, the home team had a 9-4 lead. Kentucky began to chip away at the deficit and eventually tied the score at 13-all on a service ace by Lauren O’Conner. With the score tied at 17, the Razorbacks used a pair of UK errors and a tandem block by Torres-Lopez and Acosta to take a three-point lead.
Consecutive kills by Stipanovich gave Arkansas a 24-20 lead and a handful of set points. The Wildcats saved all four points and then with a kill from Pavan, the visitors had a set point of their own. The teams traded the next four points but on UK’s third chance to win the game, Whitney Billings found the floor to give her team a 2-0 lead in the match.
Out of the intermission, the points went back and forth until Kentucky went on a four-point surge to take a 12-8 lead. The Razorbacks put together a 4-0 run of their own and with a block by Acosta and Torres-Lopez, the score was knotted at 12-12.
With the score tied at 18-all, Christa Alvarez registered a service ace and Kasey Heckelman found the floor for a kill to give the home team a two-point lead. Kentucky closed to within one on three separate occasions but the Razorbacks withstood the push to hold on to their advantage. Stipnovich and Marci King combined for a block to give Arkansas set point. On the next play, Acosta tallied a kill to close out the set in favor of the Razorbacks, 25-21.
Arkansas jumped out to an early 5-3 lead to start the fourth set but the Wildcats won seven of the next eight points to take control for good. The visitors stretched their lead to 19-11 with the help of four consecutive kills. Kentucky won the final three points of the match to seal its four-set victory.
"We have to learn from this match," Stipanovich said. "We can’t take anyone for granted. When you take anybody for granted, it really makes you step back and realize how hard you have to work. We really have to pick up after this and, individually, when we get our jobs done, we come together as a team."
The Razorbacks return to their home court Sunday afternoon for a matchup with No. 23 Tennessee. The weekend finale will be televised by SportSouth with first serve scheduled for 1 p.m. (CT). Sunday’s match will mark the first of three television matches for Arkansas this season. All three of those matches will be played at Barnhill Arena.
For more information regarding Razorback volleyball or University of Arkansas athletics, please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.