By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Robert Pulliza is in his fifth season as the head coach of the Arkansas volleyball program and has his Razorbacks off to an 11-3 start on the year heading into a pair of home Southeastern Conference matches this weekend. Arkansas is currently receiving votes in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
Pulliza sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Thursday to discuss his team and a variety of other topics in this SEC “Q&A.”
SEC Digital Network: Arkansas is 11-3 on the season and 2-1 in SEC play. You’ve seen gradual improvement each season you’ve been in Fayetteville, but what has been different about this year and this team?
Robert Pulliza: “The first thing that comes to mind is the maturity that we’re playing with and the maturity that we’re approaching every day and every match with. Maturity, hunger and commitment to doing it the right way have helped us win.”
SEC Digital Network: How much do you think your team’s early-season victories have helped the squad’s confidence?
Robert Pulliza: “Winning always helps, no doubt about that, but I think what has given confidence to our players is our preparation. They have worked hard over the summer, in the preseason and during the week to prepare themselves for the match at hand. We’re going into matches feeling prepared and confident that we can be successful and, this year, we’ve been able to be successful more often than not.”
SEC Digital Network: You have a strong senior class that you brought in four years ago; how much have those players meant to your program and your success this season?
Robert Pulliza: “We are definitely veteran and that helps. The more mature you are, the more hungry you are and the more organized you are, the more successful you can be. Maturity and age can help success. We have a good senior class focused on going out with a bang. Three of those seniors have been here four years – Janeliss Torres-Lopez, Amanda Anderson and Jasmine Norton. Those three were members of our first recruiting class and have been the foundation of how we’ve built the place. They’re on a mission to see that this thing is going the right way. They want to leave a mark and want to be the ones to put a banner back up in Barnhill Arena and make Arkansas one of the best teams in the country.”
SEC Digital Network: How much has a player like Jasmine Norton, who recently became just the third player in Arkansas history to record 1,500 career kills, meant to your program?
Robert Pulliza: “Jasmine is a tremendous athlete – she’s athletic, physical, can score points and has a big personality. She’s a lot of fun to watch. The thing that has been interesting is how she has grown as a person and the maturity that she plays with now. She was always able to get kills and jump high but, now, she can not only do those things, but she’s also really leading us. In the past she just played and, to some extent, she led us with her play, but now she’s playing with focus and purpose and really leading us with that. It’s been really exciting to watch her maturity.”
SEC Digital Network: How would you describe the culture you have created within the Arkansas volleyball program?
Robert Pulliza: “The University of Arkansas, being the flagship institution in the state of Arkansas, I thought it was really important that our program represented what Arkansas is all about. For us, what we’ve created here, we really wanted to be a reflection of our state. Our state has good people, hard-working people and people who care for each other, and that’s what we’ve done here at Arkansas. We have a group that is committed to having good people first and foremost, hard-working people who want to be great, care about each other and want to be good teammates. In essence, that’s what we’re all about. We want to be great at our craft and be great teammates. I am proud of what we’ve built here and proud of our kids.”
SEC Digital Network: How big of a goal is it for your team to earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament and what do you need to do in order to achieve that goal?
Robert Pulliza: “It’s important to realize that it’s really early in the season and there is still a lot of volleyball to be played. We are still building our resume to be NCAA worthy. To this point, we have done a good job but we need to keep putting wins in the column to be worthy. I think we have a team on our hands that can make that happen and bring wins our way. We want to go to the NCAA Tournament, no doubt about that, but we talk every day about winning an SEC Championship and putting ourselves in a position to advance in the NCAA Tournament. That’s what’s driving us day in and day out.”