Volleyball Eyes Road Test With No. 20 Arkansas

RALLY POINTS

• Ole Miss volleyball travels to Fayetteville to take on 20th-ranked Arkansas Saturday at 3 pm CT.
• The Rebels dropped a five-set heartbreaker to Texas A&M on Wednesday to open SEC play.
• Ole Miss is looking for its first victory in Barnhill Arena since 2015, when it won in five sets.
• Senior Anna Bair has 979 kills in her Ole Miss career, just 21 shy of the 1,000 kill milestone. She ranks 16th all-time in program history.
• Bair has been one of the conference’s top attackers so far in 2022, ranking third in the SEC and 38th nationally with 4.05 kills per set.
• The Rebels closed out a tough non-conference slate that featured five matches against 2021 NCAA Tournament Teams.
• Ole Miss’ offense stacks up as one of the conference’s best, ranking fourth in assists per set, fourth in kills per set and eighth in hitting percentage.
• Middle blocker Sasha Ratliff was one of 15 student-athletes named to the Preseason All-SEC Team. She earned all-conference honors last year after a breakout sophomore campaign.
• The 2022 roster features 12 members from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, six freshmen and a pair of transfers.

SCOUTING THE RAZORBACKS
At 9-2, Arkansas is off to one of its best starts in 10 years. Head coach Jason Watson has the Razorbacks making waves as they’ve knocked off a pair of top-10 teams in Washington and Georgia Tech and checked in at No. 20 in the latest AVCA Poll, their highest ranking since 1999. Arkansas is also coming off a tough five-set loss after it fell to LSU on the road earlier this week.

The Razorbacks are led by the attacking trio of Taylor Head, Jillian Gillen and Maggie Cartwright. As a team, the Arkansas offense ranks fourth nationally, averaging 14.46 kills per set while hitting at a .280 clip. Setters Hannah Hogue and Gracie Ryan directed the offense. On the defensive side, Arkansas has been tough on opposing teams, registering 2.58 blocks per set, 16.18 digs per set and holding their opponent to a .166 attacking percentage.

SERIES HISTORY
Arkansas leads the series 37-15 with Ole Miss, including each of the last four meetings. The Rebels are looking to snap the skid and pick up their first win in Barnhill Arena since 2015.

PREVIOUS MEETING
OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss struggled to contain Arkansas on the outside, falling in straight sets to Gillom. The Rebels were outhit .272 to .182 as the offense couldn’t match the Razorbacks.

Arkansas opened the match with a pair of early runs to build up a 12-5 lead over the Rebels. Ole Miss fought back, taking advantage of attacking errors to pull within three at 23-20, but the Razorbacks hung on to take the opening set. Ole Miss kept things close with Arkansas early in set two but fell behind as the Razorbacks opened up a four-point lead and managed to hold on to it the remainder of the way to go up two sets to none. Fighting back, the Rebels held an 8-6 lead to kick off the third set as they tried to keep the Razorbacks at bay. Arkansas rallied to tie the set up at 11 and 13 before running away with things to cap off the sweep.

CHASING 1K
Senior Anna Bair has been a staple of the Ole Miss attack each of the past four seasons she’s donned a Rebel uniform. The strong-armed St. Louis native has racked up 979 kills in her career and is just over 20 away from the 1,000 milestone mark. On her quest for 1K, Bair is hitting at a .289 clip this season and averaging 4.05 kills per set. A leader on the court, Bair has led the Rebels in kills in all but one match this season and has finished in double-figures 10 times.

BATTLE TESTED
Despite a 4-6 start to the 2022 season, the Rebels are gaining valuable experience on the court that will prepare them for conference play and a run in the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss had one of the tougher opening weekends across the country, hosting #9 Georgia Tech and #17 Illinois for the Ole Miss Invitational. They came up just short of the Yellow Jackets, scoring 24 points or more in all four sets, and fell to Illinois in four sets. The uphill climb continued the following weekend at the Husker Invitational, where they battled with #2 Nebraska. The Rebels picked up their first two victories of 2022 at the Bobcat Invitational and followed it up with another 2-1 weekend at the Jaguar Invitational this past weekend to round out the non-conference slate.

TEXAS TWO-STEP
The Rebels found their groove last weekend at the Bobcat Invitational in San Marcos, Texas. Ole Miss got back to winning ways, sweeping Sam Houston behind an efficient attack led by Anna Bair and Payton Brgoch. In the nightcap, the Rebs battled the host, Texas State, eating the Cats up in four sets. Bair and Sasha Ratliff each laid down 17 kills, while freshman setter Aly Borellis powered the offense to a .329 hitting percentage with a career-high 51 assists.

PUTTING THE LEAGUE ON NOTICE
Ole Miss junior middle blocker Sasha Ratliff was one of fifteen student-athletes selected to the 2022 Preseason Volleyball All-SEC Team. Ratliff established herself as one of the top middle-blockers in the SEC last season, earning an all-conference nod as well as AVCA All-Region honors. The Atlanta, Georgia, native paced the team with a school record 113 assisted blocks and was one shy of the single-season total block record with 129. Ratliff was also a top offensive contributor, ranking third in the conference and 28th nationally at a . 385 hitting clips.

ROOKIES IN THE RANKINGS
Head coach Kayla Banwarth added top talent to the Rebels’ 2022 class with the addition of six signees, including multiple Prep Volleyball Top-150 honorees. Five of the six new Rebels received AVCA High School All-America honors their senior year, tied with Florida for the most in the nation.

Aly Borellis makes her way to Oxford as a four-year letterwinner at Notre Dame Preparatory and a member of the Prep Volleyball Top-150 list. A decorated setter out of Rochester, Michigan, Borellis has racked up multiple All-American honors in her high school career, including a pair of PrepVolleyball First Team honors, AAU All-American laurels and 2021 AVCA First Team All-American honors.

Middle blocker Tessa Jones joins the Rebels as a Prep Volleyball Top-150 recruit and 2021 AVCA Honorable Mention High School All-American. In her four-year career at Seton High School in Cleves, Ohio, Jones tallied 606 kills and racked up 144 total blocks.

Outside hitter Shayla Meyer closed out her high school career with over 1,700 kills. The Superior, Nebraska, native was named first team All-Conference three years in a row, found a spot on the C-2 Volleyball All-State first team in 2020 and 2021 AVCA Honorable Mention All-American honors.

Ready for her first season in a Rebel uniform, Vivian Miller comes to campus as a highly touted recruit out of Jupiter, Florida, being named to the Prep Volleyball Top-100, AVCA Phenom List, AVCA Best and Brightest First Team and 2021 AVCA Second Team All-American honors. At Jupiter High School, the outside hitter totaled 500 kills in 154 sets played.

Cammy Niesen, listed as a defensive specialist, hopes to make an impact for the Rebels at the libero position. The 2021 AVCA Second Team High School All-American graduated as the all-time dig leader at Roger Bacon High School, where she led the Miami Valley Conference in digs as a senior. Niesen was also named first team All-District, District Player of the Year and first team All-State in 2020.

Outside hitter Emma Schwieger caps off the freshmen talent. The Bishop Moore Catholic High School grad was tabbed as the No. 5 players and the No. 1 right side in Florida for the class of 2022 and was listed as one of Prep Volleyball’s 2022 players to watch.

RATLIFF, WHITE AND BLUE
After establishing herself as one of the top middle-blockers in the SEC last season, Sasha Ratliff received an invitation to the Women’s National Team Open Program in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this past February. The junior spent three days training with some of the top athletes in the nation as part of the selection process for the US Women’s National Team and the 2022 US Women’s Collegiate National Team.

NEW FACES TO THE BENCH
Back on the bench for year two with the Rebels is Brad Creamer; however, when Ole Miss takes the court this season, he’ll have a new role with the program: assistant coach. This offseason, Creamer was elevated to assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Rebels after assisting them in one of the best seasons in program history. Also added to the staff this offseason was an assistant coach Brother Henry, who makes her way to Oxford from Santa Clara University. During her time with the Broncos, Santa Clara produced three AVCA All-Region selections, 12 All-WCC accolades and 10 WCC all-academic nods. Prior to Santa Clara, Henry was a graduate assistant with one of the nation’s elite programs at Nebraska alongside Banwarth. Rounding out the new faces are volunteer assistants Douglas Florencewho just wrapped up his playing career at King University and University of Charleston.

Follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissVB, Facebook at Ole Miss Volleyball, and on Instagram at @olemissvb. You can also follow the head coach Kayla Banwarth on Twitter @KaylaBanwarth2.

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