Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Arkansas coach right on schedule
Arkansas volleyball coach Robert Pulliza watches a 2009 practice at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas volleyball team had to wait late in the NCAA Tournament bracket show to see its name pop up as an at large entrant.
“There were nervous times,” said Robert Pulliza, who is in his sixth season as Arkansas’ coach. “We really believed we belonged. We had the schedule.”
ARKANSAS VS. CREIGHTON, NCAA REGIONAL
WHEN: 4 p.m. Central
WHERE: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kan.
RECORDS: Arkansas 16-13; Creighton 22-8
NOTEWORTHY: Arkansas will make its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and the 11th in school history. … The Razorbacks have made the Sweet 16 once (1998). … Senior Emily Helm needs seven digs to surpass Jamie Rohme (1996-98) for ninth place in the school record book.
The Razorbacks made the field for the second consecutive season and will open NCAA play at 4 p.m. today against Creighton (22-8) in the Lawrence Regional hosted by the University of Kansas. Wichita State (28-6) will take on No. 14 seed Kansas (23-7) in the other first-round match at 6:30 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse.
Arkansas finished the regular season with a 16-13 record and a 9-9 mark in SEC play, good for eighth place. The Razorbacks went 1-8 against SEC teams that will join them in the NCAA field and 1-3 against other NCAA Tournament teams.
Arkansas’ schedule was deemed the ninth-strongest in the country, Pulliza said.
“When you play a schedule like that, it shows the commitment we had on scheduling from beginning to the end of the season to the committee, that we believed we were an NCAA Tournament team,” he said. “We also had wins within that schedule, quality wins in New Mexico, Kansas and a couple of others.”
Arkansas will be led by All-SEC junior Meredith Hays, a transfer from New Mexico State, who has a team high 434 kills.
“We knew she could score points,” Pulliza said. “That’s something we knew we needed to address coming into this year. We did that, and she certainly delivered for us.”
Senior Hayley Koop is second on the team with 241 kills, while senior Raymariely Santos has a team-high 704 assists, followed by senior Ashley Vazquez with 521.
Freshmen Beana Jones (119 kills) and Ana Sofia Jusino (109 kills) each have an attack percentage of 26.2 percent or better to lead the regulars. Senior Emily Helm has a team best 501 digs, an average of 4.6 per set, and is tied with Vazquez for the team lead with 26 service aces.
Creighton finished second in the Big East with a 12-4 record. The Blue Jays are led by All-Big East juniors Kelli Browning (2.4 kills per set) and Leah McNary (3.04 kills per set).
“They’re second in the country in blocks per set, so they’re physical,” Pulliza said. “It’s going to be a great match. I think we’re similar teams. … It’s going to come down to who plays hardest and who plays best.”
The winners of today’s matches will play at 6:30 p.m. Saturday to determine who advances to the Sweet 16.
Sports, Pages 17 on 12/06/2013