The First Serve
UALR (2-4) returns to action this weekend when it makes the approximately five-hour trip to Carbondale, Ill. to take part in the 2012 Saluki Invitational. Southern Illinois serves as the host of the tournament Friday-Saturday (Sept. 7-8). Live statistics (free) of all matches and a live broadcast (subscription) of Saturday's match with Southern Illinois will be available by clicking here.
For the first time this season, UALR will take part in an invitational where it will play every team present. The Trojans kick off a tournament for the third-consecutive week when it takes on the Skyhawks of UT-Martin (1-5) at 5 p.m. Friday (Sept. 7). The Trojans hold a 4-0 advantage in the all-time series.
Saturday's (Sept. 8) double-header will feature the first-ever meeting between UALR and host Southern Illinois (5-1) at noon and the fourth meeting all time (UALR leads 2-1) with Nicholls State (1-4) at 5 p.m.
Scouting UT Martin
This will be the first meeting between the Skyhawks and the Trojans since 2005. In that season UALR swept UT Martin twice in straight sets.
UT Martin enters the weekend with a 1-5 record that is a bit misleading. The Skyhawks lost at Arkansas and against Kansas before dropping two tough five-set matches to Troy and DePaul at home. It beat Wright State last Saturday in four sets.
UTM is led by senior outside hitter Kelly Hogan with 2.64 kills per set (37 kills in 14 sets) while freshman outside hitter Lynsey Hazelwood is second with 2.16 kills per set (41 kills in 19 sets). Sophomore outside hitter Emily Keaton leads the team with 49 kills overall but is averaging 2.13 per set.
The Skyhawks like to throw many different players on the court as 10 players have played at least 10 sets on the season, but only two (defensive specialists, senior Kasey Elswick and freshman Chelsea Bowles) have appeared in all 24 sets played on the season. Freshman setter Amanda Crask has the bulk of the assists (141, 7.83 per set) but sophomore setter Brandy Dennis has contributed 74 assists in only eight sets played (9.25 per set).
Scouting Nicholls State
This will be the fourth meeting all time between the two programs in the series. The Colonels took the first match-up in four sets, but UALR has taken both meetings in the rally scoring era.
The Colonels are 1-4 entering the weekend, and have not won a set other thanin its lone win, but looks may be deceiving. They lost their first three matches of the season, but they met up against nationally-ranked Michigan and Virginia Tech before falling to tournament host Missouri.
It finally got in the winning column with a comeback win over North Florida in five sets. While the transitive property rarely can be any indicator in sports, it is interesting to note UALR swept Memphis, who swept North Florida, who took Nicholls State to five sets.
Nicholls State is coming off a three-set loss at South Alabama Tuesday night (Sept. 4), which was its first match in more than a week. Nicholls State was supposed to host a tournament last weekend, but it was cancelled due to the threat of weather from hurricane Isaac.
Senior outside hitter Jennifer Brandt leads the Colonels with 42 kills (2.47 per set) while middle blocker Sarah Terry has exactly a two kills per set average with 32 spikes in 16 sets played. Senior setter Nancy Taylor has 109 of the teams 140 assists. Seven of the 13players who have seen action this year are averaging more than one dig per set.
Scouting Southern Illinois
The Salukis dropped its first match of the year against Eastern Michigan before starting a five-match winning streak with a road sweep of Memphis. In fact, Southern Illinois lost more sets in its loss to Eastern Michigan (three) than it has during its current five-game winning streak (two).
Three different Salukis are averaging more than three kills per set while freshman middle Taylor Pippen has contributed 2.6. Senior outside hitter Laura Thole leads the team with 76 kills (3.62 per set) while junior outside hitter Jessica Whitehead is close behind with 72 kills (3.43 per set). Senior middle Alysia Mayes is right behind with 70 spikes (3.33 per set).
Sophomore setter Amy Drabant has recorded 200 of the teams 277 assists while the Salukis have a solid back line with seven different players averaging 1.8 digs per set. Senior defensive specialist Bailey Yaeger leads the team with 98 digs (4.67 per set).
The offensive attack and back row has been solid for the Salukis in 2012, but there are two other areas which have been strengths for Southern Illinois. SIU has out-blocked its opponents 52-31 overall and in five of six matches at the net, with Austin Peay winning the battle 4.0-3.0. It will be a test for UALR who has equaled or bettered every team it has played, including a 9.0-7.0 advantage in its first match against Austin Peay and 13.0-8.0 in the second meeting.
The Salukis are averaging about two aces a set and have 39 for the year, including Mayes and freshman defensive specialist Mary Bogdanski with 22 aces combined. UALR has 22 aces on the year as a team.
Time to Settle the Score
With the first ever meeting between Southern Illinois and UALR, how could there possibly be a score to settle?
Both teams opened the season at the Memphis Invitational Aug. 24-25. In fact, both teams began the season losing to Eastern Michigan in four sets. But among the five teams present (UALR, SIU, Austin Peay, Memphis and Eastern Michigan), UALR and Southern Illinois are the only two teams that did not face each other. What is even more ironic, the Trojans and Salukis both tied for second in the tournament with a 2-1 record. The only difference between the two teams was how many sets it took to defeat Austin Peay. UALR won in five sets on Friday while Southern Illinois won Saturday morning in three.
So while it remains to be seen what affect (if any) the match between SIU and UALR has in terms of tournament standings, the winner can claim (retroactively) a runner-up finish at the 2012 Memphis Invitational.
Rolling, Rolling, Rolling (On In)
There has been only two weeks to the 2012 volleyball season, but it has already been one where sophomore outside hitter Edina Begic has received plenty of honors.
Before the season even started, she found out she was named to the preseason All-Sun Belt Conference volleyball team after being named conference Freshman of the Year in 2011. She turned in a stellar tournament at the Memphis Invitational (Aug. 24-25) with three double-doubles.
For the weekend, she tallied 55 kills and only 14 errors on 135 attempts for a .304 hitting percentage and an amazing mark of more than 4.5 kills per set. Begic also contributed 41 digs (3.42 per set). For her success, she was announced as the first SBC Offensive Player of the Week in 2012 on Aug. 27.
If her numbers were not impressive enough the first weekend, she really showed her muscle at the University Plaza Invite (Aug. 31-Sept. 1). She pushed her double-double streak to six. Begic tallied a season-high 26 kills and a career-high 26 digs in a five-set loss to Austin Peay. With 21 kills against Oral Roberts and 25 more against Missouri State (in only four sets, averaging a draw-dropping stat of more than six kills per frame), she finished the weekend with more than five kills a set.
For the season, she is averaging 4.88 kills per set, almost a whole kill more than the next closest person in the conference. While NCAA statistics for the 2012 season do not start until Monday (Sept. 10), if one goes by the final national leaders in 2011, she would be tied for third in the nation in kills per set.
UALR will wrap up non-conference play next weekend (Sept. 14-15) when it travels to Norman, Okla. for the Oklahoma/NIKE Invitational. The Trojans take on New Mexico on Friday before facing Oklahoma and SMU on Saturday.