Dancing In The Dark

FAYETTEVILLE -- Jennifer Haaser, the lone senior on Arkansas' volleyball team, seems to be a quiet, reserved type who would never call attention to herself.

Indeed, when Haaser became the ninth Lady Razorback to record 1,000 career kills last weekend, no announcement was even made.

"We were tied 29-29 with (No. 9) Illinois in the second game at the time," Haaser said. "I was just trying to help win the game."

Arkansas did win the game, but lost the match in four games and now stands 2-7 for the season.

If Haaser's accomplishment is announced before Friday's home match against No. 5 Florida in Barnhill Arena, the fifth-year senior from Fort Smith Southside will probably just smile sheepishly and dig her toe into the court.

But she has her moments.

"You should see Jennifer do her Beyonce imitation," said UA junior Karla Crose. "She's got the lip-synching and dancing down-pat."

Jessica Dorrell, a flourishing freshman outside hitter for the Lady'Backs, called Haaser "a unique person."

Denny Koleva, Arkansas' sophomore outside hitter from Middleton, Wis., said of Haaser, "She goes crazy in the locker room sometimes with her dance moves."

Tara Haaser, Jennifer's 25-year-old sister and roommate, is actually the dancer of the family. She still takes dance lessons. Julianna Haaser, 19, the youngest of the three sisters, attends UA-Fort Smith on a choir scholarship.

"The three of us are all completely different," Jennifer said. "I'm the one who played basketball and volleyball."

Arkansas coach Chris Poole never thought he would land the 6-foot-2 Haaser because she never attended any of his summer volleyball camps.

"We kept hearing about this tall kid at Southside who was a good jumper," Poole recalled. "But she thought she was going to play basketball her whole life."

But while playing volleyball for her father, Southside coach Steve Haaser, during her junior year, Jennifer realized how much she enjoyed the sport.

It helped that Steve Haaser didn't take a Vince Lombardi approach with his daughter.

"My dad was so laid-back," Jennifer said. "He coached me like any other player."

After a redshirt season at Arkansas, Haaser exploded onto the Southeastern Conference scene by making SEC Freshman of the Year, second-team All-SEC and the All-SEC Tournament team.

She set a school single-match record in hitting percentage that season with a .917 mark at Alabama-Birmingham.

Haaser played for UA teams that went 21-12, 27-6 and 27-7 the past three seasons, so the Lady'Backs' 2-7 start this season has been frustrating to her at times.

"Last weekend was the first time I played like I should," Haaser said. "I wasn't helping the team enough before then. But it's been fun, and it's still exciting. This is a really good group. I think they can do whatever they set their minds to in the next few years, with the new ones coming in next year."

Haaser and the Lady'Backs haven't given up on this season, either.

"Even with a lot of freshmen playing, we've hung with some Top-25 teams," Haaser said.

The Florida matchup begins a stretch of four straight home matches for Arkansas, including Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Haaser, who has never beaten Florida, knows the Gators won't just look at Arkansas' record and giggle.

"I don't think Florida ever overlooks anybody," she said. "They always want to get better with every game. We came so close to beating them in the SEC Tournament my freshman year, but they won the fifth game."

Even though Haaser earned her UA degree in history last May and is currently practice teaching at Springdale High while pursuing her master's in education, her volleyball career seems like a blur to her.

"It's amazing how fast it has all gone by," she said.

But she does appreciate the 1,000-kill milestone.

"I've played with so many great players who have all contributed to it, and I'm proud to have done it," she said.

Haaser joins a UA list including Krystal Osborne, Kim Storey, Libby Windell, Denise Baez, Yarleen Santiago, Jessica Field Phelan, Eftila Tanellari and Jamie Rhome.

With a strong finish, Haaser should pass Rhome (1,125) for the No. 8 career spot and could even challenge Tanellari (1,259) and Phelan (1,268). Haaser has 1,009 kills with at least 20 matches remaining.

Poole plans on playing more than that.

"It's exciting to see five or six SEC teams with a chance to make the NCAA Tournament," Poole said. "That means if we do well in the conference, we can be right back up there."

If Arkansas does rally, Poole can cite a big reason why.

"Jennifer worked as hard this summer as I've ever had a player work in the off-season," Poole said. "Her shoulder bothered her last season, but it's fine now. I don't think she's had any problems with it this season."

After dabbling some with the outside hitter position, Haaser is comfortable again at middle blocker.

"Our blocking was better last weekend," Haaser said. "We just have to keep it up."

Before the season is over, Haaser may even do a little on-court Beyonce dance.

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