Lady'Backs host Bama in biggest match of season Friday

FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas volleyball team hosts Alabama Friday in what could be the biggest match of the 2004 season for the Lady Razorbacks. Arkansas recently evened its record to 10-10 overall with a dominating three-game win at Western Division rival Louisiana State Tuesday. The win improved the Lady’Backs to 7-3 in the SEC. The Crimson Tide are currently in second in the division but check in with a 16-5 overall record and are one game back at 6-4 in the SEC. "The Alabama match is a crucial one for us," said Arkansas head coach Chris Poole. "We have a one-game lead in the division and Alabama is trying to catch us. We need to win to maintain the lead." Alabama has a statistical edge over Arkansas offensively this year. The Crimson Tide are out-hitting Arkansas .260 to .182 in all matches and have a .223 to .202 edge in league play. The Lady’Backs make up the difference defensively averaging 14.00 digs per game and 3.37 blocks per game in SEC matches to the Crimson Tide’s 13.44 and 2.66, respectively. The Lady’Backs also have the advantage of winning the first meeting of the year between these two teams notching a four-game win in Tuscaloosa Oct. 10. The Tide will throw senior outside hitter Erin Heffner at Arkansas. Heffner is hitting .310 this year and ranks among the SEC leaders in several offensive categories. Heffner recorded a career-best 30 kills, hit .500 and had five blocks in the first meeting. Arkansas, however, will counter with solid defense and good blocking with senior Jennifer Haaser, junior Karla Crose and sophomores Denitza Koleva, Kele Brewer and Amy Allison. Koleva and Brewer were both had double-digit kills at Alabama while freshman Jessica Dorrell elevated her play leading the team with a .667 hitting percentage behind 13 kills. "That was a big win," admitted Poole of the first meeting. "We gained some confidence with it and it’s helped propel us to our current spot in the standings." Arkansas’ other advantage is the confidence the team picked up this week winning two thrilling, come-from-behind matches over Kentucky and Valparaiso and then the convincing three-game win at LSU. "The win at LSU was huge for a couple of reasons," said Poole. "First, LSU started 9-1 and were having one of their best years in recent history. They were playing with a lot of confidence at home. Second, we got a huge confidence boost with a quality road win. It’s always a challenge to play on the road in the SEC and the win was an important step in reaching our goal of a 10th Western Division title." Eighth-ranked Florida stands atop the league race with a perfect 10-0 SEC record. The Gators notched a much-needed with over nationally-ranked Tennessee recently nearly guaranteeing themselves the regular season crown. The Lady Vols are second in the overall race with a 9-1 record followed by Arkansas (7-3), Georgia (6-4), Alabama (6-4), South Carolina (4-6), LSU (3-7) and Auburn (3-7) to round out the top eight. Mississippi State (3-7), Mississippi (2-8) and Kentucky (2-8) round out the standings and would be left out of the SEC Tournament if the season ended today.