Arkansas volleyball team wins exhibition in Fort Smith

The Stubblefield Center is shown during an exhibition volleyball match between Arkansas and Arkansas-Fort Smith on Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Fort Smith. (Caleb Grieger/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FORT SMITH — Arkansas volleyball Coach Jason Watson said his team got exactly what it needed in Thursday’s spring scrimmage at the Stubblefield Center.

The Razorbacks outlasted Arkansas-Fort Smith 3-2 (25-22, 25-23, 17-25, 25-15, 18-20) for the match, but the Lions closed with a hard-fought 20-18 win in the fifth set.

Arkansas had set point at 14-12 in the fifth, but UAFS responded with a 3-0 spurt to turn the tables for a 15-14 lead and set point. Each team then took turns with set points before the Lions scored the final two points to break an 18-18 deadlock and claim the set.

The Razorbacks never trailed in sets 2 and 4 but rallied from a 21-18 deficit to win the opening set. Arkansas never led in the third set.

“It was good for us,” Watson said. “I think it was good for us in that we got a lot of kids some time, and a lot of kids got to experience what it’s like to play against a team that wants to compete. I thought they sustained some pretty nice defensive pressure. The other thing I thought they did was when an outside [hitter] decided not to play at all they got kind of punished for it.”

Middle blocker Sania Petties, who played in every set last season, led Arkansas with 14 kills and 3 block assists, while redshirt freshman Olivia Ruy added 11 kills. Setter Hannah Hogue, a Fort Smith native who earned All-SEC honors last season, dished out 34 assists and added a team-high 15 digs.

Romani Thurman, an Arkansas native who transferred from North Carolina, chipped in eight kills. She is the daughter of former Arkansas men’s basketball standout Scotty Thurman. 

Skylar Ellison, a 6-1 redshirt sophomore from Aledo, Texas, led the Razorbacks with four blocks (one solo).

UAFS Coach Jane Sargent said she was pleased with the way her team competed against a Division I opponent.

‘We battled,” said Sargent, whose team plays in NCAA Division II. “We competed and that’s all you want in the spring. Kids are showing off. They played with a lot of energy and played together.”

Sargent praised the work of outside hitter Nyia Anderson, a 5-8 redshirt junior from Grand Prairie, Texas.

“I thought Gunnie [Caelyn Gunn] had some great moments especially in her serve receive because they were serving bullets,” Sargent said. “I thought she did a good job passing and keeping us in system.”

The Razorbacks are coming off their best season in program history. They advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament and finished 28-6 – the most wins since winning 27 in back-to-back seasons in 2002 and 2003.

UAFS graduated six seniors from a team that finished 22-8 and lost in the first round of Lone Star Conference tournament

Arkansas finishes the spring with two tournaments at Missouri-Kansas City on April 6 and another at Missouri State on April 13. The Lions will travel to Little Rock to face Arkansas-Little Rock in a scrimmage April 11.