Get to know Missouri's potential (but not likely) NCAA Volleyball 2nd round opponent: Central Arkansas

Central Arkansas is not favored to be an opponent for the Tigers this weekend, but let's take a look at what they have in case they are.

Whenever you have a four-team playoff set-up like the NCAA Regionals, there is always a team your team is not likely to see. It makes you want to spend less time thinking about them, but I am pretty impressed with this Central Arkansas squad. Do I think they will beat Purdue at 4:30pm on Friday at The Hearnes? Let's see if I can talk myself into it.

About the Sugar Bears (yes...Sugar Bears): Central Arkansas finished the season with an impressive 29-3 record, having run the table in the Southland Conference to a 18-0 record. You may also see their record as 27-3, as they had two matches against non-D1 opponents. They were also unbeaten at home (14-0) and are currently on a 22-match winning streak. They are not receiving any votes in the latest AVCA Coach's poll, but their run has elevated them to 44th in the RPI. The closest SEC team to that number is #36 Arkansas, who the Tigers defeated twice this season (3-1 in Fayetteville and 3-0 to close out the regular season at home last week).

Out of Conference: Credit to the...um...Sugar Bears...they went for it a bit in the non-con season. And here is where you may fall in love with them just a hair. First match of the season? 3-1 over kU. By the way, kU is ranked 23rd in the AVCA, 13th in the RPI and seeded 14th overall in the upcoming tournament. UCA came down a bit in their next match, dropping a 3-1 result to Arizona (#24 RPI). Their only other losses on the season? They were swept by #1 Penn State, and lost a 5-setter to #8 Marquette. After those matches, their schedule strength took an ENORMOUS dip, as their best win was against #263 Morgan State.

In Conference: Well...they won them all. Including the Southland Tournament, that is good enough for 21 in a row (a match against La Tech was sprinkled in to make the 22-match streak). The Southland is not amazing, but does have two other teams under 100 in the RPI with Oral Roberts (97) and Northwestern St (98). They have taken down Northwestern St three times now, beating 3-2 in a thriller of a Championship match, and beat Oral Roberts twice.

The Roster: Looks like nine primary players for UCA, so here comes the bullets (Stats are based on 27-3 record)

  • Paige Gantar (6'2 Senior - Middle Blocker) - 4th on the squad in kills, but has the highest hitting percentage at .342. Tied for second in solo blocks (10), second in block assists (42) and tied for the team lead in total blocks (52)
  • Fulani Petties (6'0 Frosh - Middle Blocker) - 6th in kills, but 2nd in hitting percentage (.338). Led the team in solo blocks with 11
  • Alicia Dittrich (6'0 Junior - Middle Blocker/Outside Hitter) - Had one kill fewer than Gantar, and did so at a solid .310 hitting percentage. Led the team in block assists with 44 and tied for the team lead in total blocks with 52
  • Heather Schnars (5'11 Soph - Outside Hitter) - Led the team in kills and kills/set at 3.52. Did so on a .277 hitting percentage. Also led the team in service aces with 46
  • Jessica Nagy (6'2 Senior - Middle Blocker) - 2nd on the team in kills, though she missed four matches, and averaged over 3 per set on a .261 hitting percentage
  • Marissa Collins (5'10 Senior - Setter) - Primary setter on the team who averaged just over 12 assist per set. One of four on the squad who played in all 30 matches, and owner of the most starts at 29. 40 block assists was good enough for third on the team, and had 26 aces, good enough for second. Also second on the team in digs and digs/set
  • Scout Brooks (5'10 Junior - Outside Hitter) - Third on the team in kills, but down the list in hitting percentage at .171. Third on the team in digs. Played in all 30 matches
  • Shelbee Berringer (5'5 Junior - Defensive Specialist/Libero) - Solid on the serve with 25 aces (third on the team) to only 29 service errors. Leads the team in digs and digs/set with 4.89. Played in all 30 matches, though she did not start a single one
  • Beth Rogers (5'7 Senior - Defensive Specialist) - Played in all 30 matches, though she is down the list in digs, where she is fifth
Stats of Note: Level of competition not-withstanding, this team has some very impressive team and individual statistical measures. They are 14th in the nation in aces/set, 24th best in assist/set and 31st in hitting percentage and kills. Who leads in each of the last three team categories you ask? Missouri does. Individually, Marissa Collins is 6th-best in the nation in assist/set (Kreklow is #1) and Heather Schnars is 8th-best in aces/set. Also in the top-50 in a measure is Shelbee Berringer, who is 45th-best in digs/set.

Notes of Note: The Sugar Bears play in the Prince Center. The gym dates back to the 1930's, but was transitioned to volleyball-only in the 1990's. Of note:
With seating on three sides of the court right on top of the action, the Prince Center has quickly gained a reputation as a loud, intimidating volleyball atmosphere. A new student section has been added for the 2010 season to increase both the seating capacity and volume level in the arena
Sounds intimidating, right? If you scroll down the page, you will be greeted with the top-10 crowds in Prince Center history. Nothing beyond 2010 appears, so maybe this is out-of-date just a tad, but the total attendance of all the top-10 crowds in Prince Center history total to.....3,983. Highest on the list is 432.

Prediction: I don't think the scene will be too big for Central Arkansas. Their block is not great, so that is where Purdue will need to make their hay. If the UCA serve gets going, that could really help as well. I think this is going to be an entertaining match, and one where I would not at all be surprised to see go at least four sets. In the end, I think Purdue and their tournament experience wins out, but I think UCA will impress at times before falling.

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