Lady'Backs Open Season Against Kansas

FAYETTEVILLE -- Chris Poole kept his distance from his young Arkansas volleyball team on Tuesday, not wishing to give his cold to anyone on the eve of the Lady Razorbacks' toughest schedule ever.

"I think I'm stressed out," Poole said. "This schedule is brutal."

It begins at Barnhill Arena at 7 tonight against Kansas, a team the Lady'Backs beat in five tough games last season in Lawrence, Kan.

Kansas had just beaten Final Four team Minnesota before losing to Arkansas in 2003, so Poole said, "I suspect they're going to want revenge.

"Kansas is very good -- they swept Long Beach State in the first round of the NCAAs. We hope our fans will want to come watch us in this match, because it could have NCAA Tournament ramifications in three months. It's a match we need to win."

Poole would feel better if Kele Brewer, an All-Southeastern Conference freshman last season, could play tonight, but she's out for perhaps 10 more days with a stress fracture in her foot.

Arkansas lost honorable mention All-America performers Sara Kincaid and Roberta Tarnauskaite from last year's 27-7 team, and those two helped the UA alumni team thump the Lady'Backs 23-30, 30-18, 30-27, 15-5 on Saturday.

"Obviously, that was a very good alumni team," Poole said. "We wanted to let our six freshmen get the jitters out. But we did not block well or serve well, so we need to smooth those two areas out."

Arkansas freshman Jessica Dorrell played creditably in Brewer's place, tying senior Jennifer Haaser with 10 kills, while All-SEC freshman returnee Denny Koleva led with 15 kills and a .250 hitting percentage.

Iva Docekalova, a UA junior who is one of the better servers in the SEC, had no aces and two service errors as the Lady'Backs had just two aces (by Haaser) and 15 service errors.

"We were way too careful," Poole said.

His biggest challenge in the early part of the season, Poole said, is to keep his team's spirits high even if they slip up here and there.

Arkansas is used to winning, having taken nine of 10 SEC West titles and reached the NCAAs six times.

But Poole hoped to have a 6-foot-4 international player when he drew up the current schedule -- the second or third toughest in the country, he said -- 18 months ago.

Instead, his tallest players are Haaser, Amy Allison and Karla Crose at 6-2 each.

But Arkansas does have a promising mix of athletic newcomers including Dorrell, the MVP of the Texas High School All-Star game; Christina Lawrence of Sullivan, Mo.; Arkansans Ashley Wiechman of Jonesboro and Kelli Cole of Russellville; 6-1 Amanda Eskridge of Rowlett, Texas, and Ashley Miller of Vacaville, Calif.

Chelsey Warmack, a junior from Harrison, is back to help Haaser provide leadership.

Miller said Tuesday she looks forward to this weekend's trip to Santa Clara, Calif, near her hometown, for matches against Pacific and Santa Clara.

Poole said, "We need to see some success early in the season."

Haaser, a two-time second team All-SEC honoree, looks forward to the challenge as the lone senior.

"I feel a lot of responsibility to lead this team," she said. "But the juniors (Docekalova, Warmack, Crose) are right behind me."

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