FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Arkansas volleyball team picked up its second victory of the day to come away with the title Saturday at the season-opening Arkansas Invitational in front of 730 fans at Barnhill Arena. The Razorbacks picked up a straight-set win over Samford (25-21, 25-23, 25-21) to complete their undefeated weekend. This marks Arkansas’ first 3-0 start since the 2006 season.
Kelli Stipanovich was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The Razorback junior finished the three-match event with 28 kills and a .500 hitting percentage to go along with 23 digs. Amanda Anderson and Cassie Clarke also grabbed all-tournament selections. Anderson hit .457 with 26 kills and Clarke averaged 10.56 assists per set during the weekend, handing out 43 assists in the finale.
"I’m happy to see the team win the tournament title and I’m even more happy that we did it the right way," head coach Robert Pulliza said. "I thought we executed on a high level all weekend. I’m also really pleased with how mature we played to close out these matches. There are definite places to improve and we’re always working to get better, but I’m happy with where we are as a team at this point of the season."
Arkansas took an early 8-3 lead in the opening set after a kill by Amanda Anderson which forced Samford (2-1) to call its first timeout. Out of the break, the visitors rallied and eventually took the lead, 15-14, on a service ace by Lyndsey Holt. The two teams traded points until Stipanovich put away a ball to put the Razorbacks up by two, 21-19. Consecutive kills by Anderson and a kill by Kendall Cleveland brought Arkansas to set point. Jasmine Norton sealed the opener for the Hogs with a crosscourt shot, one of her eight first-set kills.
Both teams thrived offensively in game one as the Razorbacks posted a .500 hitting percentage while Samford hit .360 as a team. Anderson added four kills for the home team and Clarke handed out 18 assists in the set.
Following the pattern of the first, Arkansas controlled the early stages of the second set and took a 9-6 lead on a kill by Stipanovich. A late lead change found the Razorbacks behind, 19-18, but the home team won the next two points, including a long rally extended by a pair of Arkansas hustle plays. After Samford saved one set point, Norton put another ball to the floor to send the Hogs into the locker room with a two-set advantage.
In the final set, Arkansas survived an early surge by its opponent and, with a four-point run, took a 10-9 advantage. The Razorbacks applied pressure with a strong offense and led, 17-13, when Samford called a timeout. The Bulldogs got as close as two points, but Clarke and Alex Fitzmorris posted back-to-back kills to pad the lead. On match point, Cleveland closed out Samford and secured the tournament title with her seventh kill.
Norton finished the match with a match-high 15 kills at a .400 hitting percentage. Anderson and Stipanovich each had nine kills against Samford. The Razorbacks tallied a .347 hitting percentage as a team. Samford’s Lauren Hutchinson and Alexis Bauer were also named to the all-tournament team.
In the first match of Saturday’s second session, UMKC (1-2) picked up its first win of the season with a four-set victory over Grambling State (0-3). Liz Beck of UMKC and Chelsee Goins of Grambling were named to the Arkansas Invitational All-Tournament team.
The Razorbacks are back in action Tuesday for a midweek road match at Oral Roberts. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Tulsa. Non-conference tournament play resumes Sept. 3-4 with the Jayhawk Classic in Lawrence, Kan., where Arkansas will be joined by Akron, Chattanooga and host Kansas. For more information and continued updates, log on to ArkansasRazorback.com.