Arkansas improves in loss to Denver

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FT. COLLINS, Colo. – At times powerful, at times scrappy with a lot of finesse, the University of Arkansas volleyball team showed all of its many faces under first-year head coach Robert Pulliza at the Hilton Classic in Ft. Collins, Colo., this weekend. Arkansas (0-3) dropped a pair of matches at the Hilton Classic falling in the nightcap to Denver, 15-25, 22-25, 21-25. Pulliza, however, was pleased to get the first weekend under his team’s belt and is excited to get back to the gym for some adjustments. “I’m very pleased with the character the team showed this weekend,” he said. “Obviously, it was not the result we were looking for but it is the effort we’re looking for.” Arkansas dropped their earlier match to Eastern Washington in three sets, 23-25, 12-25, 14-25, and lost the opener Friday to No. 17 and host Colorado State. “We played some good teams this weekend and they exposed our weaknesses,” Pulliza continued. “This gives us a reference point of where we need to improve next week. We’re looking forward to getting back in the gym and building on this last match and moving forward as a program.” In the nightcap, the Razorbacks got on the board first with a kill from sophomore Hillary McCormick as Pulliza again shook up the starting lineup to begin play. McCormick finished with six kills and hit .333 for the match. Denver rebounded quickly and took the lead stretching it to seven but Arkansas played tough and closed the gap. Denver again rallied and hit .455 with just one error in the frame as they went on for the win. Arkansas had one of its better sets of the tournament to that point to open against Denver. The Razorbacks hit .139 with four kills from sophomore Heather Royal leading the way. The Razorbacks were without a block in the set and freshman Kelli Stipanovich tallied three kills for Arkansas. Royal tallied nine kills, hit .238 and had five digs in the loss. Stipanovich led all hitters with 10 kills and had six digs and a block for Arkansas. The Razorbacks showed signs of the “Arkansas Volleyball” style of play Pulliza has been looking for in a battle down to the wire of the second set. The set featured 13 ties and numerous lead changes before DU slipped ahead for the win. Tied at 21-all, a pair of well-place shots from two Denver hitters allowed the Pioneers a 23-21 cushion and prompted Pulliza to call his final timeout. But Denver continued with the hot hand with a dump for a kill from their setter. Arkansas held off set point when senior Yun Tang laced a shot deep to the left corner but DU finished the Razorbacks with a kill off the hands of an Arkansas player. Tang had three kills and a team-best five blocks for the night. Arkansas hit a single-game season-best .346 in the frame with 13 kills, four from Stipanovich, and had just four hitting errors. But Denver again out-hit Arkansas, .414-.346, and had 17 kills while matching the Razorbacks with two team blocks each. The third set was again close throughout the contest. Denver opened a bit of a lead early but Arkansas, down by as many as five twice, chipped away at the Pioneer lead scratching their way back into the frame. Arkansas trailed, 11-12, and Denver burned a timeout, but the Pioneers committed back-to-back hitting errors giving the Razorbacks a one-point advantage. That prompted a sea-saw battle that saw some of the hardest hitting plays by the Razorbacks all weekend. Tied at 20, DU took the lead on a Razorback hitting error and added a block to go up two. Arkansas answered with a block of their own but couldn’t overcome the DU advantage as the Pioneers closed the set for the match win. Arkansas returns to the court next weekend traveling to Atlanta, Ga., for the Regency Suites/Georgia Tech Tournament. Arkansas faces host Georgia Tech Friday, Sept. 5, followed by Michigan and Georgia State Saturday and Sunday, respectively. For more information about Arkansas volleyball, please log on to