EUGENE, Ore. (arkansasrazorbacks.com) – In the team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013, No. 6 Arkansas opened postseason play in dominating fashion with a sweep over Utah State. It was the program’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 2005, and first sweep since 2005.
“It started last year when we felt we were a group worthy of inclusion in the tournament. Committees do what committees do, and they did it. And that stung, and that hurt, but what are you going to do about it? So I think this is what we’re going to do about it. We’re going to be a better volleyball team and play,” head coach Jason Watson said on the win. “And so for this program, and for these athletes, I think it validates a commitment to something that’s bigger than themselves, and I think that’s incredibly special.”
Junior Taylor Head paced the offense with 15 kills and hit .314, and graduate outside Hailey Dirrigl led all Arkansas hitters in percentage with .385 and seven kills. The Hogs hit .333 as a team and held Utah State to .136.
The Razorbacks had a successful night at the service line with seven aces to Utah State’s two, which included two apiece from setters Gracie Ryan and Hannah Hogue.
The first set was tight to start with neither team letting the other create too much momentum, and there were seven ties through the 10th point, until Arkansas found an 11-9 cushion off a Gillen kill and a block by Hailey Dirrigl and Shipes. The Hogs settled in from there and went on a 5-0 run, which featured a Gillen ace and back-to-back blocks for Dirrigl and Shipes, and Arkansas led 18-11. The Aggies chased but couldn’t cut the deficit to less than three, and Arkansas came within two off a kill from Shipes. Utah State called time and got one back, but Arkansas closed it with a solo block and kill from Dirrigl for the 25-19 victory.
Arkansas came out blazing in the second and used a 7-1 run, capped off by an ace by Hannah Hogue, for an 8-3 lead. The Aggies found a rhythm, began to limit the Hogs’ chances, and eventually came within one at 13-12. The Razorbacks responded with six straight points, including another ace from Hogue, and quickly pushed the lead to 19-12. The Aggies added another, but the Hogs went on a 5-0 tear to force set point. Utah State spoiled it once, but Abigail Archibong closed it out with a kill and Arkansas took the second 25-14.
The Hogs continued to have a solid day at the service line and used aces by Shipes and two from Gracie Ryan for a 12-8 lead that sent the Aggies to a timeout. Ryan dumped a ball over on the next point to extend the lead, and the Hogs went up by eight points at 18-10 with back-to-back kills from Head and Dirrigl, and Utah State huddled again. Head pushed it over 20 shortly after, and the Aggies were able to tack on four more, but an error gave the set point to the Hogs. Utah State added one more kill, but Gillen put a bow on the set 25-15 and secured the sweep with a kill.
Arkansas will play the winner of No. 3 Oregon and Loyola-Marymount in Eugene Saturday at 9 p.m. CT for a spot in the Sweet 16. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+.