The Razorback volleyball team will face conference opponents Texas A&M University on Wednesday and the University of Missouri for the second time this season Sunday after losing in five sets to the University of Mississippi on Oct. 2.
“It would’ve been nice to squeak one out on the road,” head coach Jason Watson said. “The outcome isn’t what we want but we’re getting closer, we’re making progress.”
A&M enters the contest with an 8-6 record and is riding a two-game win streak after beating conference opponents Louisiana State University and Auburn University. The Aggies have struggled against top competition this year with five of their losses coming against top-25 teams.
Texas A&M boasts a young team, fielded by 12 underclassmen, but is led by a couple of juniors. Only four Aggies have played in all 50 sets on the season and two of those are outside hitter Kiara McGee and libero Amy Nettles.
McGee leads the team in kills per set with 3.18 and poses a threat to the Razorbacks defense. Nettles is a team leader also, averaging 3.16 digs per set.
The other two are a pair of middle blockers in senior Jazzmin Babers and sophomore Kaitlyn Blake. The duo form the backbone of the Aggie defense that is second in Southeastern Conference in blocks per set and is top 50 in the country. Blake is averaging 1.64 blocks per set and Babers is second on the team with 0.94 bps.
“It starts with our ability to pass and have multiple hitters available that allows them to not focus on one particular hitter,” Watson said. “We know that Danielle (Harbin) is going to attract some attention the way she’s been playing. The better we pass, the less attention they have to pay to her.”
Arkansas dropped the first matchup against Missouri in three sets Sept. 30, but will look to reverse a two-game losing streak when it travels to Columbia to take on the Tigers on Oct. 9.
Missouri is coming into the match with a hot hand. The Tigers are on an eight-game winning streak and a 13-3 record overall.
The Tigers’ offense has been instrumental in getting the team off to its hot start, Watson said.
Missouri has 780 total kills and 72 service aces on the season, while it has held opponents to only 650 kills and 62 service aces on the season. The Tigers’ 2 percent difference in kills per set compared to its opponents has been a difference maker for them this season.
“That matchup is going to be a function of our ability to play floor defense,” Watson said. “It’s not going to be about our blocking defense. They have some tremendous range and make you have to play the game. Last time, we were really not very good at identifying what they were doing and making any type of change, defensively.”
Behind the stellar offensive attack is redshirt junior outside hitter Melanie Crow and senior outside hitter Carly Kan. The duo is averaging 3.86 and 2.93 kills per set, respectively, and will force Arkansas’ middle blockers to account for more than just one star hitter.
Crow is also in the top five in the nation with 31 service aces on the season so far.
One weakness of the Tigers the Razorbacks could look to exploit is Missouri’s average record at home. Out of the Tigers’ three losses, two have come at home and that’s only out of five home games total.
The Razorbacks will host the Aggies at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Barnhill Arena. The game will be televised on ESPNU. Arkansas will then play the Tigers at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Missouri.