FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas volleyball team got off to a quick start, but needed to fight to finish off a 3-0 sweep of Stephen F. Austin in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night in front of a crowd of 3,847 at Barnhill Arena.
The No. 9 Razorbacks (26-5) rolled early, hitting at a .571 clip in the opening set while holding Stephen F. Austin to .000 (five kills, five errors) in front of the second-biggest crowd in program history.
But the Ladyjacks made it tough as the match wore on. The teams were tied at 22-22 and it looked as though Arkansas finished off the match. However, the Ladyjacks won a challenge and forced the Razorbacks to replay the point. But they responded, closing it out for the 25-8, 25-17, 25-23 victory.
Arkansas will now take on TCU, which defeated No. 22 Florida State 3-1 earlier Friday. The Razorbacks and Horned Frogs’ second-round match will begin Saturday at 7 p.m.
Jill Gillen finished with a match-high 19 kills for the Razorbacks, while Maggie Cartwright added 14 kills and 19 digs. Taylor Head chipped in 11 kills.
Gillen said the team was just excited to play in the postseason and at home. It’s the first time Arkansas has hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament since 2006.
“I think we were just really excited to be out here,” Gillen said. “I mean, none of us have ever had this experience of hosting at Barnhill, and I think we were just really excited and ready to go. I thought we played really well.”
Arkansas Coach Jason Watson said facing TCU should bring an interesting challenge.
“Yeah, I would say so,” Watson said. “I actually have that report, too. We’ve been working on them all week. Yeah, I think it’s going to be an interesting matchup. I think their speed is something that is unique. I think they’re even faster than us in some phases of the game.
“Our first-ball contact may be a little cleaner than theirs at times, but they’re certainly a handful. [Melanie Parra] is one of the marquee outside hitters in the country. She’s pretty special to watch. So, it’s going to be an interesting one.”
TCU Coach Jason Williams also said the Horned Frogs and Razorbacks have similar styles.
“But Arkansas is just solid. They’re just a solid [team],” he said. “They play a similar style to us. I think they’re probably a little better at it than we are right now in terms of ball control and rhythm.”
Stephen F. Austin Coach Debbie Humphreys said she was proud of the way her team fought back after senior Ielan Bradley went down with an injury early in the match.
“It just kind of rattled everyone,” Humphreys said. “Our kill leader and just a big part of what we do. It just rattled us to the point we couldn’t serve. We couldn’t do any of the skills and then we settled down and started playing volleyball. I couldn’t be more happy more pleased with how we just fought and fought and scrapped and found a way to be competitive as the match progressed.”
Izabella Ortiz and Tanishua Joseph led the Ladyjacks with seven kills each.
TCU 3, FLORIDA STATE 1
The Horned Frogs came out on the winning end of a pair of tight sets and sent No. 22 Florida State home.
Junior outside hitter Melanie Parra hammered a match-high 23 kills to lead TCU to a 26-24, 16-25, 25-18, 26-24 decision over the Seminoles.
TCU (17-14) trailed 22-17 in the opening set, but rallied for a 26-24 win, then did it again in the fourth to close out the match.
The Horned Frogs turned away a Florida State set point at 24-23, then scored the final three to close out the match. It was the second win of the season for TCU over Florida State.
TCU spoiled an all Arkansas matchup in the second round. Florida State Coach Chris Poole started the Razorbacks’ volleyball program in 1994. Florida State freshman setter Kennedy Phelan grew up in Fayetteville and helped the Lady Bulldpogs win multiple state titles.
Audrey Koenig led Florida State (23-9) with 13 kills and 20 digs. Phelan, who was recently named to the Atlantic Coast Conference All-Freshman team, finished with with 23 assists and 10 digs.