With three straight conference victories elevating its SEC record to 3-1, Ole Miss has built momentum ahead of Friday night’s matchup with Arkansas.
The Razorbacks, despite nearly matching the Rebels’ 12-5 season record with 11 wins of their own and 5 losses, have struggled to get things started in conference play. Arkansas’ SEC record stands at a measly 1-3. While one of those losses came against Florida, now No. 1, and another came against Auburn (who handed Ole Miss its sole conference defeat), the Razorbacks also fell short in their clash with Alabama.
The Rebels, who faced the Crimson Tide just two weeks ago, emerged from the head-to-head with a victory. That certainly bodes well for their upcoming matchup in Fayetteville. But despite this and the Rebels’ superior conference play so far, there are certain factors that could help the Razorbacks keep things competitive.
While the two teams are close in nearly every statistical category, the Razorbacks lead Ole Miss in four of the seven major categories, including hitting percentage and kills. On the other hand, the Rebels boast an SEC top-two opponent hitting percentage of .158. Arkansas crawls in at just 10th on that list with a .205 hitting percentage. Adding to the unpredictability, the Razorbacks lead the conference in assists, while the Rebels stamp their name at the top of the digs column.
With varying levels of success on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, the two SEC powerhouses seem destined for an interesting showdown. With such compelling stat lines heading into the matchup, both teams will rely on their stars to make the necessary plays.
Ole Miss relies heavily upon the talent and wisdom of its natural leaders, seniors Lexi Thompson and Kate Gibson. Both players’ names pop up on several conference leaderboards. Thompson is in the SEC top 10 for kills per set, and Gibson is in sixth for most points in conference-only matchups. Junior Caroline Adams and sophomores Emily Stroup and Nayo Warnell round out a team of playmakers who consistently place among the top in the SEC.
While Ole Miss possesses its fair share of playmaking talent, the Razorbacks’ Pilar Victoria and Rachel Rippee could stand out in a sea of talented players. Rippee, a sophomore, ranks second in the SEC in assists per set. Victoria leads the nation in kills per set, points per set, points and total kills while finishing in the top 10 for attacks per set. Simply put, the senior transfer from Texas is one of the most feared attackers in the country. Ole Miss cannot afford to let Victoria get in her groove.
Arkansas and Ole Miss go back and forth on the stat sheets but one aspect ahead of their Friday night showdown remains constant: The two have remarkable, game-changing players. From senior standouts to freshman phenoms, both squads hold the ability to change the game and take over. Only time will tell which team can assert itself earlier and maintain control.
Friday’s match will begin at 7 p.m. in Fayetteville, Arkansas.