TUSCALOOSA The University of Alabama volleyball team finishes up the road portion of its 2006 regular-season schedule this weekend when the Tide travels to No. 11 LSU and long-time nemesis Arkansas for a pair of Southeastern Conference matches.
“This weekend is another great opportunity for our team to see how much we have improved over the course of the past week,” said Tide head coach Judy Green. “Consistency is what we are after. I know our team will be anxious to compete against two top-40 teams in the RPI once again.”
Alabama (15-10, 10-6) comes off of a thrilling two-match stretch on the road last weekend that saw the Tide split a pair of matches with Tennessee and Kentucky. Both matches featured spirited comebacks, with Alabama losing the first two games in each, but battling back to force a fifth-game each time. The Tide beat Tennessee in Knoxville on Friday, but didn’t have enough to overtake the Wildcats on Sunday.
The Tide faces the two teams in the SEC’s Western Division that have historically been Alabama’s biggest rivals during the conference season. Both teams fell to the Tide earlier this season in Tuscaloosa, but each have been much improved since the first meeting with Alabama.
“LSU and Arkansas have been playing outstanding volleyball through the second half of the SEC schedule,” said Green. “It will certainly be a challenge for our team to be successful in their gyms.”
The eleventh-ranked Tigers enter the match red-hot, having lost just once in their last eight matches. LSU has just three losses in league play, having fallen to top-10 Florida twice and at Alabama on Oct. 8. The Tigers have a 10-2 mark this season on their home floor and breezed past Arkansas in three games in Baton Rouge on Wednesday night.
LSU ranks in the top three in the SEC in nearly every statistical category, including opponent hitting percentage, assists, kills, blocks, digs and service aces. The Tigers feature a balanced attack, with three players averaging over three kills per game with no individual recording more than 3.83 per game.
The offensive leader is Marina Skender, who ranks 10th in the SEC with her 3.83 kill per game average. Lauren DeGirolamo is hitting .319 on the season, good for 10th place in the league. Setter Daniela Romero directs the offense, and her 13.55 assists per game leads the SEC. DeGirolamo is second in the conference in blocks per game, while Skender leads the league in service aces. Kassi Mikulik is third in the SEC in digs, averaging 4.82 per game.
Arkansas has also been playing its best volleyball of the season despite entering the match with Alabama on a two-game losing streak. The Lady Razorbacks ripped off five straight until falling to No. 7 Florida and 11th-ranked Tigers on Wednesday in its last two outings.
The Hogs are a solid defensive unit and rank fourth in the SEC in blocking and in digs. The leader of the offense is Denitza Koleva, who stands third in the conference with 4.26 kills per game. Setters Caira Dougherty and Lindsay Scanlan run the Lady Backs offensive attack, while Ashley Miller leads the team in digs with 4.71 per game, good for fourth in the league.
No radio coverage is available for the Crimson Tide this weekend, but fans may follow the action via livestats on the LSU web site, www.lsusports.net, and on the Arkansas web site, www.ladybacks.com.
Alabama returns home next weekend to conclude the 2006 regular season. The Tide welcomes Georgia and South Carolina to the CAVE, with the Gamecocks coming to Tuscaloosa on Friday, Nov. 16 and the Lady Bulldogs closing out the home schedule on Sunday, Nov. 18.