LITTLE ROCK- By now, people who follow NCAA Division I volleyball stats know the name Edina Begic. Since the first release on September 9, Begic has led the nation with more than six points a set. With a season-best 6.16 points currently, she is averaging nearly half a point more than the nearest competitor.
With her performance of 28 kills against FIU (Sept. 21) in a five-set thriller, Begic took over the national lead in kills per set and has not relented. That number ballooned to 5.45 as she blasted a career-high 33 kills, the second-most in an NCAA match this season, against North Texas (Sept. 29). The win halted the Mean Green's seven-match win streak and vaulted UALR into the lead in the Sun Belt Conference West Division.
But if one digs a little deeper into those numbers, an even more impressive stat line appears. UALR has played three of four conference games in five sets. Combining Begic's stats alone from the fifth set, she has sent to the court 17 kills on only 30 attempts and one error (.533 hitting percentage). Against FIU alone, Begic went on a run of five-straight kills to open an 11-2 lead and was successful on seven of nine attacks with no errors (.778) in the deciding fifth set.
Kills and points only tell two sides of the story. the reigning SBC Freshman of the Year is currently third in the conference and 77th in the country with 0.37 aces per set. For all the swings on the year (892), Begic is eighth in the conference and 248th in the country with a .291 hitting percentage. She has 11 double-doubles in 16 tries this season as she is averaging 3.24 digs per set.
On October 1, Begic garnered her second Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor. It was her second of the season as she became just third player in school history, and the first since 2003, to achieve that feat.
"It feels great but my whole team is a part of this. I pushed hard during the summer to get stronger with [Strength Coach] Barron and to work on my skills with the coaching staff," Begic said.
Besides Begic, several Trojans are having the best season of their careers. Senior Eva Xie (Chonqing, China) has reached double-digit kills in 10 of 16 matches. She is averaging 2.76 kills a set, almost a half a kill more than her sophomore season. Sophomore Adisa Hodzic (Sarajevo, Bosnia) faced the transition from an outside hitter last season to a defensive specialist role this season. Hodzic has seven matches with double-digit kills in 2012 after having none her freshman season. She also leads the team in blocks with 0.99 per set.
"Eva and Adisa are working hard, and during matches they pull blockers with them so it helps me be more open and able to kill the ball. My teammates are doing really well and I am proud of them. Adisa has done a great job with a position change and I felt Eva had her best match of the season against North Texas to help us win," Begic explained.
"What I believe Edina realizes is that she alone can't make us win. But if she puts up numbers like she has been getting and has support from Eva, Adisa and Daniele (Souza Moura) offensive-wise, we are hard to beat. Edina is the go-to because when we need points, she has been able to score. She understands her role that we need her to play well, but her teammates understand their roles that they have to play well also," head coach Van Compton said.
Every great hitter needs an excellent passer and setter. Sophomore Marleen de Zoete (Camas, Washington) is second in the SBC and 40th in the country with 11 assists per set, nearly two assists higher than her freshman season. De Zoete has already etched her name in the UALR record books with the eighth-most assists in school history (1,585). Senior Emily Pepperman (Metairie, La.) has dug out 4.06 balls per set, the best mark since her freshman season, and owns the school records in career digs (1,508).
Sophomore Allison Wyatt (Jonesboro, Ark.), senior Daniele Souza Moura (Cuiaba-MT, Brazil) freshman Tyler Davis (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and de Zoete all have multiple double-digit dig matches.
"If you look at our team, if everyone is not producing and being positive, we don't win," Compton stated. "That goes for digs too. We almost need three players in double-digits in digs and kills to win. If you look at the matches we have won against good competition, we have accomplished that.
"Since conference season has started, Dani now plays full rotation and that has helped us out on defense because she was a defensive player last year," Compton added.
Last but not least, Begic has had the luxury of coaches who have been around the program for many years. Compton has been privileged to coach many great outside hitters in program history in her 25 years with UALR. Assistant coach Todd Bourdo is in his eighth season while Anita Bucur is in her third season after finishing her playing career (2006-09) as one of the greatest UALR outside hitters in program history. Bucur is still third in career kills with 1,462.
"Anita is great to me during games as she tells me which shots are open, whether to go line, cross or pull," Begic explained.
UALR looks to continue its best start in conference play this weekend when it hosts South Alabama Friday (Oct. 5) at 7 p.m., before finishing the weekend Saturday at 3 p.m. against Troy.