Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Razorbacks edge LSU in SEC opener
Arkansas' Ellease Crumpton (6) sends the ball over the net Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, as LSU's Sanaa Dotson (9) defends during play at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas volleyball team sure didn’t start the way it wanted against LSU, but it finished just fine.
The Razorbacks dropped the opening set, but came back to grind out a tough 3-1 (17-25, 27-25, 25-19, 25-20) victory to start SEC play Wednesday night in Barnhill Arena.
Arkansas (10-2, 1-0) trailed in each of the final three sets but found a way to scrap and surge late to come away with the win. LSU (4-6, 0-1) scored the first four points of the fourth set, but Arkansas tied it at 5-5 and took a 7-5 advantage and never trailed again.
Arkansas Coach Jason Watson liked the way his team just found a way to come out on top, especially in what turned out to be a pivotal second set.
The Razorbacks got going midway through the second set after trailing by as many as seven, but roared back with a 9-2 run to tie it at 20-20. LSU had a pair of set points to go up 2-0. But Arkansas responded and finished the set with an ace by Maggie Cartwright and Ellease Crumpton put away the overpass for the set win.
“I thought it was this kind of blue collar, we had to grind out some points,” Watson said. “I think points weren’t easy to come by. I thought we had some pretty key serving runs. It’s a little feast or famine from the service line for us but I thought that was the difference.
“I thought our outside hitters kinda evened out a little bit. I think they started out really rough and I’m proud of them for staying in there. I’m kinda proud of our staff for letting them stay in there, too. I think a change could’ve worked or it could not have worked.”
Arkansas also used a huge 11-2 run to rally from a 17-14 deficit to take the third set.
Junior outside hitter Jill Gillen said the team stayed composed after a tough opening set and stayed aggressive from the service line.
“I think we just came together between the first and second set and said, ‘Hey, that’s not how we play,’” Gillen said. “That’s not how we handle business and we’re gonna turn it around.’
“I think our serving came together, maybe had a few early misses but I think we dialed it in and controlled that throughout the rest of the match.”
Arkansas finished with 13 service errors, but also 11 aces and went at 6-4 graduate transfer Kylie Deberg out of serve receive. That helped to take the LSU offense out of rhythm.
“Yes, it gets her out of system and out of the game,” Gillen said. “Also, I think the key was no matter what we’re putting up a good block on her.”
DeBerg, a three-time All-American at Missouri, finished with a team-high 15 kills but wasn’t particularly efficient — hitting just .148 for the match. She was the only Tiger to reach double figures in kills. LSU libero Raigen Cianciulli finished with a match-high 24 digs.
Gillen finished with a match-high 25 kills, while sophomore Taylor Head chipped in with 11. But Head hit only .019 with 10 errors. Graduate transfer Abigail Archibong chipped in with nine kills and hit .421.
LSU finished with more digs than Arkansas 84-81, but the Razorbacks’ defense was key late. Freshman libero Courtney Jackson led with a team-high 22 digs, while setter Gracie Ryan and Head each tallied double-doubles. Ryan had 19 digs to go with 50 assists. Head added 13 digs.
Arkansas travels to No. 21 Tennessee for two matches over the weekend and returns to Barnhill Arena to take on Georgia on Oct. 2.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.