Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Arkansas, UCA set to open NCAAs
Senior Amanda Anderson will play in her first NCAA Tournament game on Friday.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas’ women’s volleyball team will make its 10th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but its first in six years, when the Razorbacks (22-9) open against Wichita State (22-9) at 4 p.m. today in Lawrence, Kan.
It’s a milestone for fifthyear Arkansas Coach Robert Pulliza, who has seen steady improvement in the program since his first Razorbacks team finished 7-23 in 2008. Last year Arkansas was 18-13, including 10-10 SEC play.
“We had a NCAA Tournament team on our hands last year,” Pulliza said. “We just couldn’t get a marquee win down the stretch to get ourselves in. ... We were just a little on the outside looking in.
“Obviously, we wanted to be in, but the fact last year we were so close gave great fuel to these athletes that this year we were going to be on the celebration side instead of the burst bubble. This team committed themselves and stayed here the whole summer, and now we’re in the Big Dance.”
Arkansas has in-state company in the NCAA Tournament, with Central Arkansas making its first NCAA Tournament appearance. The Sugar Bears (30-4) play Washington (23-6) at 9 tonight in Seattle.
The Razorbacks are led by senior opposite hitter Roslandy Acosta, a first-team All-SEC pick, and senior outside hitter Jasmine Norton, an All-SEC second-teamer. Opposite hitter Liz Fortado made the SEC all-freshman team.
“It’s a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of excitement,” Pulliza said of taking Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament. “A lot of emotions involved for the first time around, especially our senior class. They’ve helped build this from the ground up.”
While none of the Razorbacks have previous NCAA Tournament experience, they played seven teams in this year’s field and went a combined 4-7 against them. That includes home-andhome matches with Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M in SEC play.
“I think playing in the SEC, and especially the schedule we had, should help us be able to manage being in the NCAA Tournament,” Pulliza said. “We know it’s a brand new beginning, and we’re expecting to be our best and hopefully be successful.”
UCA earned an automatic NCAA bid by winning its first Southland Conference title and set a school record for victories this season. The Sugar Bears are led by senior outside hitter Jessica Hays, junior setter Marissa Collins and sophomore middle blocker Alicia Dittrich, who all earned first-team Southland Conference honors.
Washington is making its 11th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and is the 13th overall seed in the 64-team field.
“We did not expect to go that far,” UCA Coach David McFatrich said of being sent to Washington. “We were expecting Kansas or Kentucky, but the committee decided for us to go to Seattle, and we’ll definitely take it.”
ARKANSAS VS. WICHITA STATE
WHEN 4 p.m. Central today
WHERE Lawrence, Kan.
RECORDS Arkansas 22-9, Wichita State 22-9
UP NEXT The Arkansas-Wichita Sate winner advances to play the Kansas-Cleveland State winner Saturday.
CENTRAL ARKANSAS VS. WASHINGTON
WHEN 9 p.m. Central today
RECORDS UCA 30-4, Washington 23-6
UP NEXT The UCA-Washington winner advances to play the Hawaii-Santa Clara winner Saturday.
Sports, Pages 25 on 11/30/2012