Hogs’ Invitation to NCAA Tournament Pulliza’s First
After finishing the regular season 22-9 overall and 13-7 in the Southeastern Conference, the Razorback volleyball team received a bid into the NCAA tournament.
Arkansas finished last season with a record of 18-13 and were on the bubble of making the tournament at the end of the season, but did not get a bid.
Last year’s team was tournament caliber, but they couldn’t get a marquee win down the stretch, head coach Robert Pulliza said.
“The fact that we were so close, I think it gave great fuel to these athletes to make sure when we were in the room this year we were going to be on the celebration side instead of the burst bubble,” Pulliza said.
The team stayed in Fayetteville over the summer to make sure that when it came time for tournament teams to be announced this season, they were not left out.
Their hard work has paid off, and the team leaves Wednesday night for Lawrence, Kan., where they will play their first-round match against Wichita State Friday at 4 p.m.
The Shockers finished the regular season 20-8 and won two games in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament before losing in the finals to Creighton.
Arkansas and Wichita State have three common opponents this season: Oklahoma, Auburn and Tennessee.
The Shockers defeated the Sooners 3-1 in Norman, Okla., but Oklahoma defeated Arkansas 3-1 in Fayetteville.
Wichita State beat Auburn 3-1 at the SMU Doubletree Classic in Dallas. Arkansas beat Auburn in straight sets in Fayetteville, but fell to the Tigers 3-2 in Auburn.
The Shockers pushed a match against the Tennessee Volunteers to five sets, but lost 3-2. The Razorbacks beat the Vols 3-1 in Knoxville, Tenn., but were swept by Tennessee in Fayetteville.
Wichita State is a physical, competitive team, but Arkansas matches up well with them, Pulliza said.
This trip to the NCAA tournament will be the first for Arkansas since 2006 as well as the first time ever for Pulliza.
“It’s a great feeling, a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of excitement,” Pulliza said.
The team features a group of six seniors. Roslandy Acosta, Kasey Heckelman and Marci King all transferred to Arkansas before their junior seasons.
Those athletes along with Pulliza’s first recruiting class made up of Jasmine Norton, Janeliss Torres-Lopez and Pulliza’s first commitment at Arkansas, Amanda Anderson have helped get the Arkansas volleyball program to where it is.
“A lot of emotions involved in the first time around for athletes, especially the senior class. Three of them were the first recruiting class and helped us build this place from the ground up,” Pulliza said.
The Razorbacks got lucky in being selected to play in Lawrence, Kan., which is only a four and a half hour drive. For comparison, the University of Central Arkansas volleyball team will travel to Seattle, a trip that takes 35 hours in a car.
“I love the location because we get to drive and you get to kind of control your hours and control your travel and that is significant at this time of year where everyone is kind of fatigued from the travel and the go,” Pulliza said.
In addition to their success as a team, the Razorbacks are receiving individual recognition. Four Hogs received SEC honors.
Anderson was named the SEC scholar athlete of the year, the first time in program history this award has been given to a Razorback. Anderson earned her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in three years with a 3.839 GPA.
As a graduate student, she has a GPA of 3.75 in her pursuit of a master’s degree in recreation/sport management.
“It doesn’t get anymore, in my mind, prestigious than that. You get it done on the court and you get it done off the court,” Pulliza said.
Acosta was named to the All-SEC First Team. Acosta played in the Olympics as a right side setter, but transformed herself into an outside hitter to help the team.
“She’s going to have a great career in her sport for a long time,” Pulliza said.
Norton was named to the All-SEC Second Team, becoming only the second player in program history to earn a spot on the All-SEC team each of their four years on the team.
“She’s made an impact and every year she has made it count,” Pulliza said.
Freshman Liz Fortado was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. Fortado played in every set this season, an amazing accomplishment for a freshman.
“She was a big stabilizing force for us and she’s certainly a big part of our success,” Pulliza said.