FAYETTEVILLE – After three weekends of non-conference play, the University of Arkansas volleyball team opens Southeastern Conference play Friday with a home match against Georgia. First serve of the 2010 conference opener is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Barnhill Arena. Arkansas (6-5) enters the weekend on a four-match slide.
"We’re in a place where we need to regain our work ethic," head coach Robert Pulliza said. "After a really good preseason, we played well in the first couple of tournaments of the year because we were confident and confidence comes through work ethic. Then we got a little comfortable and paid the price for it last weekend so we have to get back to being that hard-working team and get our groove back."
Jasmine Norton leads the SEC with 173 kills and is second in the league with 4.12 kills per set, also good for a No. 37 ranking in the first release of the national statistical leaders. Dating back to last season, she has recorded at least 10 kills in 16 consecutive conference matches. Amanda Anderson paces the team, and is ninth in the league, with her .346 hitting percentage.
Defensively, Arkansas averages 2.22 blocks per set. Setter Cassie Clarke leads the way with 32 total blocks, followed by Alex Fitzmorris and Charmaine Whitmore. The Razorbacks have double-digit blocks totals in four matches this season. Behind the block, libero Brooke Fournier is averaging 3.09 digs per set through the first 11 matches of her collegiate career.
In their last outing, the Razorbacks dropped a five-set decision to Alabama-Birmingham in the finale of the Middle Tennessee Invitational. In defeat, Norton posted the second 20-20 performance of her career with 29 kills and a career-best 22 digs against the Blazers. Janeliss Torres-Lopez andFournier also turned in career-high efforts with 11.0 total blocks and 26 digs, respectively. Against UAB, Arkansas tallied a season-high 14.0 total team blocks, the most by the Razorbacks since the 2007 season.
Georgia (8-3) comes into the first weekend of league play off a five-set victory over Georgia State in its last outing. Through the non-conference season, the Bulldogs are fourth in the conference with their .263 hitting percentage, while preseason All-SEC selection Valentina Gonzalez boasts a conference-best .409 hitting percentage. Defensively, UGA is second in the SEC with 2.82 blocks per set; two Bulldogs-Ann Dylla (first, 1.39 b/s) and Gonzalez (eighth, 1.02 b/s)-are ranked among the top-10 blockers in the league.
In the preseason coaches’ poll, Georgia was picked to finish fourth in the Eastern Division. In the all-time series, Arkansas leads UGA, 14-7. The two teams split last season’s meetings with each winning on the other’s home court. The Razorbacks have won six of the nine matches with Georgia played in Fayetteville.
In last season’s conference opener, the Razorbacks knocked off South Carolina in straight sets (25-16, 25-21, 25-15) at Barnhill Arena. Then freshmen, Norton and Anderson paced the offense with 17 and 11 kills respectively, while Arkansas held the Gamecocks to a .064 hitting percentage. The Razorbacks are 8-8 in all-time SEC openers.
"It’s good, obviously, to have our fans here at Barnhill," Pulliza said. "They have been great for us this year and been a big part of our success early on, so we’ll need them again this weekend. It also helps being at home because we can have a full week of practice so we can use all of our time to train, instead of travel."
Fans in attendance for the Arkansas-Georgia match can enter a drawing for a chance to win a $200 gift certificate to Hog Heaven. The opening weekend of league play concludes Sunday with a 1:30 p.m. first serve against Auburn at Barnhill Arena. The Razorbacks own a 29-4 advantage in their series with Auburn, the most wins by Arkansas against another SEC team. To follow the action, live stream, interactive blog and live stats will be available at ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
Download: Notes 6_Georgia, Auburn.pdf