UA Volleyball Set For NCAA Tourney

FAYETTEVILLE -- Imagine the Arkansas volleyball team's elation when the announcement came that the 17-15 Lady Razorbacks were in the NCAA Tournament.

"We thought there was a 5 to 10 percent chance," said UA freshman Jessica Dorrell. "We hadn't lost hope, but we had prepared ourselves for the (bad) news."

ESPN News was to present the bracket at 5:45 p.m. Sunday, but Arkansas coach Chris Poole did not set up a "watch party" because his players had been so disappointed two years ago to learn, together, that they had been left out of the tournament despite a 27-6 record.

So Dorrell was in her room at 5:46 p.m. Sunday when her dad called and screamed, "You all are in!"

"You don't know what that feels like," Dorrell said. "It's just amazing. It shows what faith the NCAA committee has in us, and what talent they see in us. They recognized that we played the second-best schedule in the country."

The Lady'Backs, seeded 12th in the Louisville Bracket, will meet fourth-seeded Missouri at 6 p.m. Friday in the Hearnes Center in Columbia, Mo.

For the record, the other three 16-team brackets are named Minneapolis, Green Bay and Seattle.

Nebraska is the No. 1 seed in the Louisville Bracket and in the entire tournament.

Dorrell figures the Lady'Backs can go in relaxed and play without the pressure that has dogged them since a 2-8 start.

"Because we're so young, we're still getting used to each other on the court and getting a feel for what we can do," Dorrell said.

Her own improvement as an outside hitter and middle blocker is evidenced by the fact that she had a .212 overall kill percentage but a .321 mark in Southeastern Conference matches -- second-best on the team.

At 5-foot-11, Dorrell can touch 10 feet, 3 inches.

A native of Aledo, Texas, just west of Fort Worth, Dorrell had plenty of fan support when Arkansas played TCU and SMU last weekend at the Fort Worth Recreation Center.

"It was great going home," she said. "You don't think you'll get homesick when you go to college, but you do."

Dorrell considered TCU, SMU, Texas A&M and Oklahoma along with Arkansas as her college choices, and is happy she picked the UA over A&M in the end.

"I'm having a blast," she said. "Arkansas has some of the best volleyball facilities, and our coaching staff is just amazing. Coach Poole said he would be a second father to me away from home, and that's what sold me."

Chris Poole was excited and relieved to see his team made the Big Dance.

"After we started 2-8, we literally dug ourselves out for three months, just to get back in the tournament committee's minds," he said. "It says a lot for our players' determination."

Poole believes his team lost a few matches down the stretch simply because of being too tight under the pressure.

"I really think we'll go out and play relaxed now," he said. "All of our players walked in here with huge smiles on their faces at practice this week."

If the Lady'Backs beat Missouri, they'll play the winner of the Illinois-Louisville match at 6 p.m. Saturday in Columbia.

Should Arkansas survive that gantlet, it will go next week to Louisville, where its third-round opponent would likely be Nebraska (27-1).

This is Arkansas' seventh NCAA appearance in 11 seasons.

The T.J. Maxx Tour of Gymnastics Champions, sponsored by Tyson Foods and held Nov. 22 at Barnhill Arena, was by all accounts a spectacular show.

The performance, featuring Olympic gold medalist Carly Patterson, drew an estimated 6,500 fans.

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