FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Arkansas volleyball team opens its 2011 season Friday on its home floor against No. 15 Colorado State. First serve is set for 7 p.m. at Barnhill Arena. The match is the first of three for the Razorbacks during this weekend’s Arkansas Invitational. Including Arkansas and Colorado State, the tournament field also includes Middle Tennessee and McNeese State. Both Colorado State and Middle Tennessee played in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
After Friday’s season opener, the Razorbacks return to the court Saturday for two matches. Arkansas begins day two with an 11 a.m. matchup with McNeese State and closes out the two-day event with a 7 p.m. date against Middle Tennessee.
"This weekend, we’ll see what we’re made of right away," fourth-year head coach Robert Pulliza said. "Obviously, the key is to win but against three very good teams early on, we also get to see how we stack up and where our weaknesses are. We have a veteran group and we’ll be able to address those spots early on as we go into the rest of the season."
The Razorbacks return 10 letterwinners and five starters from last season, including 2010 All-SEC performers Jasmine Norton and Raymariely Santos. After last season with no seniors, Arkansas will benefit from the experience of 2011 seniors Kelli Stipanovich and Adriana Vazquez. Entering the 2011 season, Norton (947 career kills) and Stipanovich (891) are on pace to join the program’s 1,000-kill club during the upcoming year.
Prior to the start of the season, Arkansas was picked to finish third in the SEC Western Division behind defending champion LSU and Ole Miss, the same position the team was slotted before the 2010 season. Norton added to her collection of honors when she was named one of the 10 players on the Preseason All-SEC Team for the second time in her career.
"We want to be an NCAA Tournament team," Pulliza said. "One of our captains said it best. If we don’t prepare early on during the pre-conference (schedule) by playing the best and playing our best, that can’t happen on the tail end. We can’t wait until the SEC season comes or toward the end of the year, the grind needs to start from day one."
Colorado State leads the all-time series with the Razorbacks, 3-1. The last meeting between the two teams was a straight-sets victory for the Rams in 2008. Arkansas and Middle Tennessee have played on two occasions with each team winning once. The Razorbacks have never played McNeese State.
"Our fans can expect some great volleyball this weekend," Pulliza said. "Colorado State is a very physical team. They start the season ranked 15th which will give us an early test and let us know where we are. Then we play McNeese State which has a new head coach. That match will be their season opener so they’re going to be ready to play. We close out against Middle Tennessee, another NCAA Tournament team. They are very fast (offensively) and return five starters from a year ago so they bring in a very veteran group."
Season tickets for the 2011 campaign are now on sale through the Razorback Ticket Center. Fans looking to renew their ticket packages may do so for $50 while first-time buyers can secure reserved seats for $29 and will receive a $10 Charwells gift card. Last season, Barnhill Arena hosted three of the top six crowds in program history. For more season-ticket information, call the ticket office at 800-982-4647.
For more information regarding Razorback volleyball or University of Arkansas athletics, please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
2011 Arkansas Invitational – Aug. 26-27 (Barnhill Arena)FridayArkansas vs. No. 15 Colorado State – 7 p.m.
SaturdayArkansas vs. McNeese State – 11 a.m.No. 15 Colorado State vs. Middle Tennessee – 1 p.m.McNeese State vs. No. 15 Colorado State – 5 p.m.Arkansas vs. Middle Tennessee – 7 p.m.