No. 5 Florida Overpowers Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' freshman-laden volleyball team had fun for awhile against No. 5 Florida on Friday night, winning the first game 30-28 and leading Game 2 10-9 before losing the final three games and the match, 30-22, 30-23, 30-18.

The Gators, 9-1, with only a loss to No. 1 Minnesota, took command with 22 kills by Jane Collymore, 16 by 6-foot-1 freshman Marcie Hampton and much-improved passing after Game 1.

Kele Brewer, on the mend from a stress fracture in her left foot, led Arkansas (2-8) with 14 kills, while Jennifer Haaser and Denny Koleva had 11 each.

It was the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.

"We've got to be the best 2-8 team in the country," said UA coach Chris Poole. "But if we want to go to the NCAA Tournament we've got to start winning some games."

Florida had won 80 consecutive individual games in SEC regular-season play, dating to a Game 1 loss to LSU in 2002, before Friday.

"The way Arkansas played in Game 1, if they had kept that up, the final outcome might have been reversed," said Florida coach Mary Wise. "Their freshman setter (Amanda Eskridge) is very good, but it's like a freshman quarterback getting his timing down with the receivers."

Wise also praised Arkansas freshman libero Ashley Miller of Vacaville, Calif., whose emergence coincided with junior Chelsey Warmack's decision to leave the Lady Razorbacks last week.

"Miller is a great addition for them," Wise said.

Miller had 25 of Arkansas' 85 defensive digs, and offset some mistakes with her fiery presence.

"Ashley is playing beyond our expectations," Poole said. "People are targeting her and she's going to make mistakes, but she's naturally very vocal and that's something we've been missing on this team."

Poole said Warmack, of Harrison, wanted to focus on her pre-med studies. "We wish her the best of luck," he said.

Florida, finally without graduated superstar Aury Cruz, looked lost in the first game while making seven service errors. But soon Collymore, Hampton and senior Michelle Chatman (9 kills) took hold.

The Lady Razorbacks battled to the end, even cutting an 18-7 deficit to 21-16 in Game 4, but Florida had too much firepower.

"I think Arkansas has very many similarities to Florida," Wise said. "Both of us graduated some elite players and are works in progress. We're both trying to find an identity. Arkansas' talent is there and is only going to get better."

Haaser, honored with a plaque before the game for her 1,000th career kill -- she now has 1,020 -- said, "We were so excited after Game 1, but I've played Florida enough times to know we had to keep working."

Wise said about Haaser, a fifth-year senior from Fort Smith, "It seems like she's played for Arkansas since they came into the SEC," Haaser said.

The Gators out-hit Arkansas ,235 to .109, with Chatman's .350 leading the way. Brewer hit a team-high .184, moving Poole to say, "Kele looked like her old self."

Poole bemoaned Arkansas' passing difficulties, but Wise reminded, "Passing is like shooting in basketball; you've got to get into a good rhythm."

On Sunday Arkansas plays at home against Georgia, a loser to LSU on Friday night.

Florida next draws LSU, which has its best team since the mid-1990s, according to Wise.

"Georgia will be tough," Poole said. "We've played a brutal schedule but we've been competitive with five or six Top 25 teams. We just have to keep fighting like we did tonight."

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