The First Serve
The UALR volleyball team wraps up non-conference play this weekend when it makes the trek to Norman, Okla. for the Oklahoma Invitational. UALR will be facing New Mexico (10-1) on Friday night at 5 p.m. and Oklahoma (8-3) and SMU (2-7) at noon and 5 p.m., respectively, on Saturday. Live Stats will be available through soonersports.com or by going to the UALR volleyball schedule page.
Scouting New Mexico
The Lobos come into the weekend seeking their fourth tournament title in as many opportunities this season. New Mexico sports a 10-1 record and a nine-match winning streak dating back to Aug. 25. In fact, since the five-set loss to Duquesne on Aug. 24, New Mexico has only dropped six sets.
It will be quiet the battle of outside hitters when Chantale Riddle for the Lobos lines up across the net from UALR's Edina Begic. Begic leads the nation in points per set (6.1) and is second in kills (5.31) while Riddle is 30th in points (4.89) and 37th in kills per set (4.22). Riddle also contributes defensively as she leads the team and is 132nd in the nation with 1.08 blocks per set.
Sophomore middle Elsa Krieg is second on the team with two kills per set, but picks her swings well. Krieg is 36th in the nation with a .399 hitting percentage and is also 25th in the country with 0.53 aces per frame.
New Mexico is an interesting challenge because it has two primary setters that distributes the assists pretty evenly. Senior Jordan Russell usually gets the starting nod and has 183 assists (4.57 per set) on the year, but it is Hannah Johnson who comes off the bench and leads the team in that category (240, 5.85 assists per set). Five players have more than 65 digs on the year. Junior libero Miquella Lovato easily leads the team with 162 digs, but the next four are bunched up between 65 and 89 digs.
The Lobos will look to exploit UALR's defense as it is ninth in the nation with an average of 1.8 aces a set.
The Sooners have flirted with the top-25 all season in the AVCA coaches poll and is currently 38th in votes received in the poll released Monday (Sept. 10th). Oklahoma is 8-3 on the season with two of its three losses to ranked teams: at then-#24 Colorado State and at #1 Nebraska. OU also beat then-#19 Kentucky in four sets also this past weekend. The Sooners other loss was in five sets at Northern Colorado.
But unlike the Lobos and the Trojans, Oklahoma does not have one player who records the majority of kills. Sophomore outside hitter Tara Dunn averages 2.8 kills per set but only has 70 spikes. Three other Sooners average more than two kills a set with junior middle Sallie McLaurin second on the team (2.61 kills per set), senior outside hitter Morgan Reynolds third (2.54) and freshman middle Kierra Holst fourth (2.12).
Freshman setter Julia Doyle has 401 of the teams 472 assists on the year while senior libero Maria Fernanda has 203 digs on the year.
Despite a balanced offensive approach, Oklahoma's forte may just be its defense. The Sooners as a team are 10th in the nation with 3.04 blocks per set while McLaurin is fifth individually with 1.66 kills per set.
SMU enters the weekend 2-7 and looks to end a three-match losing streak. After beginning the season with a straight-set victory over Charleston Southern, it has lost seven of eight, including four by straight sets. This past weekend, SMU lost a trio of matches at home to Wichita State in five and to Texas State and Auburn in straight sets.
Sophomore outside hitter Caroline Young leads the Mustangs and is 96th in the country with 119 kills (3.72 per set). Combined with 0.47 aces per set (46th in the country), she is 75th with 4.39 points per set. Classmate and position-mate Carla Armstrong contributes 2.03 kills per set. Senior setter Olivia Bailey leads the team with 203 assists (9.67 per set) while liberos senior Julianne Scheidler and sophomore Susan Lewis are first and second with 83 and 79 digs, respectively.
Because UALR has either matched or out-blocked eight of nine opponents this year, the Trojans may have an edge at the net. The Mustangs have been out-blocked 84.5-60.0 on the year. Junior middle Maddie Lozano leads the team with just under one block a set.
Get Your Block On
Entering the 2012 season, UALR was in an interesting situation where no player returning was a middle blocker. But you would not easily know it by the block total.
UALR has beaten or matched its opponents in blocks in eight of nine matches this season. In fact, on Friday (Sept. 7) against Tennessee-Martin, sophomore Adisa Hodzic (an outside hitter in 2011) became the first Trojan in two years and the third player in the Sun Belt this season to record double-digit blocks. With 1.17 blocks per set, she is fourth in the conference. Senior Daniele Souza Moura, a defensive specialist, is sixth in the conference with one block per set.
The Super Sophomores
The NCAA on Monday (Sept. 10) released its first round of weekly volleyball statistics and three different Trojans found their names in the top-100 in four different per set categories.
Leading the way is Edina Begic. Begic leads the nation in points at 6.1, one tenth above Tyler Henderson of Tulsa. The two switch places in the national rankings when it comes to kills as Henderson's 5.50 kills leads Begic's 5.31. Begic received a big boost this past Friday (Sept. 7) when she tallied a season-high 31 kills in only four sets. According to the AVCA, she is only the third player (and the first in less than five sets) to register more than 30 kills in a match.
This season, Begic has been named Preseason All-SBC, made the All-Tournament Squads at the Memphis and Saluki Invites and the first SBC Offensive Player of the Week Aug. 27.
Not to be outdone, sophomore Marleen de Zoete is second in the Sun Belt and 42nd in the nation with 10.94 assists. She had a career-high 71 assists against Austin Peay Aug. 31, the most by an SBC player in five years and the most for a UALR player in six seasons. Through only nine matches, she has already matched last season's total of three double-doubles.
A converted outside hitter, Adisa Hodzic is fourth in the SBC and 98th in the country with 1.17 blocks. Last season, Hodzic only had 21 total blocks and her match-high was three blocks. It only took her six total matches to surpass her total from last season and in eight of nine matches in 2012, she has at least three blocks. Friday (Sept. 7) in four sets against UTM, she became the first Trojan in two seasons to reach double-digits in blocks for the match. Hodzic is also averaging more thean one kill a set more from 2011 as she is third on the team with 2.44. She has four matches of double-digit kills.
Those are not the only sophomores putting up numbers so far in 2012. Allison Wyatt is also having a great season with six double-digit dig matches. She only had four all of last season.
Don't Forget the Seniors
While the sophomore class is having a spectacular season, the senior class is putting impressive stats as well.
Emily Pepperman, who already owns the school record with 1,384 digs, is putting up numbers not seen since her freshman season. Pep is eighth in the conference with 4.11 digs per set and leads the team with eight double-digit dig matches.
Classmate Eva Xie is having her best season of her collegiate career despite generally coming off the bench. She is second in both double-digit kill matches (six) and kills per set (2.75). Against Austin Peay Aug. 31, she set a career-match high with 21 kills. Daniele Souza Moura has a block a set average and set a career-match high in blocks (seven) against Austin Peay Aug. 31.