Arkansas head coach Robert Pulliza begins his second season with the Razorbacks in 2009 but this isn’t the same old Razorbacks. Pulliza and his staff have quickly put their stamp on the team and the program, and everyone is looking forward to the result of all that hard work.
This year Arkansas takes the court with a new look — literally – as seven new players hope to have an immediate impact on what will be a young team this year.
“We are very excited for this second season to finally be here,” Pulliza said. “We had a small core group of players training over the spring that have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of their new teammates. We are going to be a young team, but luckily this spring we had a pair of returning seniors make great strides in learning and demonstrating their new leadership capabilities. We will be a deeper squad which will give us much more flexibility in training and matches. There is no doubt that we are going to be talented, but the key will be maintaining a consistent maximum effort throughout the season.”
Pulliza’s first season closed with the graduation of three seniors in Yun Tang, Caira Dortch and Christina Lawrence but the program also saw the departure or retirement of five other players leaving the Razorbacks with five returners. Arkansas lost almost 63 percent of the team’s offensive attack and nearly as much on defense.
The returning core of players is solid, paced by seniors Kristin Seaton and Lindsay Scanlan. Offensive threat Kelli Stipanovich returns for her second season after a summer of oversees playing experience. Liberos Mackenzie Rhea and Phoebe Bautista are back to anchor the defense for the Razorbacks.
Look for impact from the Razorback newcomers from the first serve. This year’s recruiting class, the first for Pulliza at Arkansas, was ranked in the top 45 in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com in June.
“We’re very excited for our first recruiting class to be named among the best in the country,” Pulliza said. “It’s a great core group who will help us build Arkansas into one of the best programs in the nation.”
Arkansas takes the court this fall with something the team hasn’t really had in quite some time — an experienced setter. Senior Lindsay Scanlan endured some intensive one-on-one workouts this spring improving with each practice.
Scanlan isn’t the only setter on the roster this season. She is joined by Fayetteville, Ark., native Cassie Clarke. Clarke’s prep success earned her numerous honors and awards and she helped the Bulldogs both as a setter and outside hitter in 2008.
The Razorbacks also boast some experience at the libero/defensive specialist positions. Redshirt sophomore Phoebe Bautista and redshirt sophomore Mackenzie Rhea both started at libero in 2008 and the duo combined for one third of Arkansas’ digs last year. Bautista led the team with 341 digs and Arkansas got 137 from Rhea who started the season as the defensive sub.
Freshman Katelyn McCarthy will likely join the returners fighting for time in a defensive position. A Bentonville native, McCarthy is one of three Arkansans on the roster and joined current teammate Clarke on the West All-Star team in the summer.
Primarily an outside in high school, McCarthy earned several state honors including being named player of the year by a pair of area newspapers. McCarthy has shown good passing skills and her leadership will be an asset on the court.
Arkansas’ offense is paced by senior Kristin Seaton and sophomore Kelli Stipanovich. Seaton returns for her final year of college ball having redshirted a year.
The Fort Smith, Ark., native posted career numbers for hitting percentage, block solos, block assists and total blocks under Pulliza’s direction last year. She became one of the most talked about Razorbacks when the new staff was complimenting improvement.
Stipanovich returns for her second season of volleyball under Pulliza. Since arriving on campus, she got a new coach, played her first season, attended a USA Volleyball tryout with Seaton and played for the Junior A2-Europe team this summer.
In 2008, Stipanovich led the team in kills, total attempts and service aces. She was ranked among the SEC leaders in offense and was second for the Razorbacks in points scored.
Freshmen Kendall Cleveland and Jasmine Norton will both vie for playing time and are expected to see playing time early in the season. Cleveland, a Houston, Texas, native, was successful for her club and high school teams and should be a factor for Arkansas.
Norton checks in from Rowlett, Texas, where she earned player of the year and team MVP honors with the Eagles.
Arkansas was a bit thin in the middle last year. Pulliza signed three players to combat that fact, but the Razorbacks will still battle its youth at this position. Amanda Anderson, Allison Johnson and Janeliss Torres-Lopez are all expected to contribute this year.
Johnson transferred to Arkansas after a redshirt season at Missouri in 2008. The 6-3 Sycamore, Ill., native gives Arkansas size at the middle position and has a year of collegiate training under her belt.
Anderson was one of the first recruits to sign at Arkansas for Pulliza and his staff. A very athletic middle, Pulliza hopes to see Anderson develop into a six-rotation player over the course of her career.
Torres-Lopez is a Salinas, Puerto Rico, native who comes to Fayetteville with a lot of playing experience. A member of the Puerto Rican Junior National Team, Torres-Lopez is well-traveled having played in the states and internationally during her career.