FAYETTEVILLE – Battling its second top-25 opponent in a row, the University of Arkansas volleyball team nearly pulled off an upset but No. 22 Tennessee came away with the victory (22-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20, 17-15) Friday evening at Barnhill Arena. In the loss, Jasmine Norton paced the Razorbacks with 19 kills and 10 digs while Kelli Stipanovich added 16 kills. Arkansas, playing in its eighth five-set match of the season, had two match points in the final game before the Lady Vols posted the win.
"It was a great match tonight," head coach Robert Pulliza said. "Our kids gave great effort and it showed in taking Tennessee, the No. 22 team in the nation and ninth in the RPI, to five sets. We put ourselves in a position to win the match and our collective effort tonight was good."
In the decisive fifth set, Arkansas (9-9, 3-4 SEC) and Tennessee (13-3, 5-2 SEC) exchanged points but the Razorbacks led, 8-7, at the turn when the teams switched benches. Amanda Anderson and Hayley Koop combined for a block to give the Razorback a two-point lead. With the score tied, a hitting error by UT’s Kayla Jeter gave Arkansas its first match point but it was wiped away by a Stipanovich service error.
Norton put the Razorbacks on the verge for a second time with her final match of the night but Tennessee responded with a kill by Nikki Fowler to pull even once again. On their first match point, the Lady Vols completed the comeback with another kill by Fowler.
The first set was tied six times but Arkansas never trailed, building its largest lead of the game, 23-18, after a service ace by Janeliss Torres-Lopez. The Razorback arrived at set point on a kill by Stipanovich. Tennessee saved the first three but on Arkansas’ fourth chance, Anderson found the floor on a slide attack to clinch the game, 25-22.
The Lady Vols won three of the first four points in the second set but the home team rallied to take a 7-6 lead after a solo stuff by Torres-Lopez. After a stretch of back-and-forth play in the middle of the game, Tennessee took a two-point lead, 18-16, to force an Arkansas timeout. The Razorbacks responded to win five of the next seven points to take the set lead for good. On set point, Norton pounded the ball crosscourt to send Arkansas into the locker room with a 2-0 set lead.
Tennessee even the match with wins in sets three and four by identical scores of 25-20. In game three, the Razorbacks led late, 19-17, but Tennessee rattled off eight of the final nine points to clinch the set on a kill by Fowler. The Lady Vols held the lead throughout the fourth set. After trailing by as much as five, Arkansas cut its deficit to three late in the game but the visitors took the set.
Anderson, Koop and Torres-Lopez all tallied eight kills against the Lady Vols. Directing the offence, Cassie Clarke notched her third double-double performance of the year with a season-high 53 assists and 11 digs. Fowler led all hitters with 24 kills while teammates Jeter and Leah Hinkey had 18 and 11 kills, respectively.
"We just have to be tougher down the stretch and learn to close opponents out when we have the chance, especially against a team of that caliber," Pulliza said. "But tonight was another step forward for us as a team and now we have to get ourselves ready for Sunday."
The Razorbacks return to their home court Sunday for the weekend finale against Kentucky. First serve of the match is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. (CT) at Barnhill Arena. An audio stream, interactive blog and live stats will be available to follow the action at ArkansasRazorbacks.com.