Did UALR Volleyball Have the Greatest Arkansan Student-Athlete this Century?

unnamed-2

UALR volleyball player Edina Begic’s athletic brilliance puts her in a class of her own when it comes to recent achievements of student-athletes at Division I and II colleges in the state of Arkansas. The three-time Sun Belt player of the year led her program to a 20-0 record in conference and an NCAA Tournament win last week against No. 11 Kansas – at Kansas.

She had the Lady Trojans on the brink of the Sweet 16. I’m not sure if any in-state Division I university, outside of the University of Arkansas, has made a Sweet 16 in any team sport. Here are some of Begic’s other achievements:

*Last year, set an NCAA record by winning a conference player of the week award seven times, five of them back to back.

*Broke that record this season by winning the award eight times.

*In 2012, ranked No. 1 in the nation in kills (an attack not returned by the opponent, resulting in a point) per set.

*In 2013, ranked No. 3 in kills per set and paired with teammate Sonja Milanovic to form the nation’s top spiking duo (with 9.09 kills per set).

*Consensus top hitter in program history, finishing first in career kills, second in digs and fourth in service aces.

Begic has competitors for the title of Greatest Arkansas Student-Athlete since 2000. As I wrote this week in Arkansas Times, “Henderson State University quarterback Kevin Rodgers just finished a career in which he also shattered multiple career records and finished as a three-time conference player of the year, but his team didn’t win a post-season game. Former Harding University basketball player Matt Hall and Kayla Jackson, a former University of Arkansas at Monticello softball star, also both won multiple conference player of the year and All-America awards.

In Division I women’s sports, former UCA basketball player Megan Herbert comes closest to Begic. Herbert, a three-time conference player of the year (who should have won it all four years), was one of the nation’s most prolific rebounders despite standing 5-foot-10. But she never led a team nearly as impressive as Begic’s 2014 squad, and her Sugar Bears never broke into the NCAA Tournament.

On the Division I men’s side, former Razorback Darren McFadden had some legendary games against elite competition, and he twice won the nation’s award for best running back, but his overall game-to-game running statistics were not as impressive as Begic’s kill statistics.”

Read the rest of the article here.

The Most Dominant Athlete in Arkansas College Sports

Courtesy Jim Hilton

I don’t usually repost press release copy from universities, but I’m making an exception today. Because it’s a shame not more people know about Edina Begic, the UALR volleyball star who likely just pulled off this year’s single most dominant individual season in all Arkansas college team sports. You’ll read about some of all the amazing things she achieved below, but what I find most stupendous is the fact that the Bosnian she received a Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week award seven times this fall – including one historic stretch of five such honors in a row.

The Beginator.
The Begicinator.

After another record-breaking year that saw her finish third in the nation with 5.11 kills per set, Begic was this week named to the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association All-Region Team for the Southwest Region. Begic is UALR’s first volleyball player to achieve this honor.

The junior outside hitter, who is now eligible to be named an All-American, topped the Sun Belt Conference in kills per set and points per set and was named its Offensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. She was also third in the country with 5.83 points per set. Begic is the first player in conference history to win Freshman of the Year followed with a pair of Offensive Player of the Year awards. She is only the the third Trojan to win Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player, joining Barbara Gomez (1997) and Tanja Radovic (2000).

Behind Begic’s offensive prowess, the Trojans took the No. 2 seed into last month’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament and held a 12-6 record in Sun Belt play along with an 8-5 mark in non-conference games. Begic set multiple school records this season, shattering the record for kills in a match with 36 kills in only four sets against Arkansas State on Oct. 2. In that match she had 16 kills in the fourth set alone and hit .517 for the match.

Against Georgia State on Nov. 8, Begic broke the school record for kills in a season and currently ended the campaign with 634 kills.

Milanovic has put up impressive numbers herself this season. She was the first Trojan to break the 30+ kills in a match barrier, matching the- then school record for kills in a match (34) against Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Sept. 7. She is second on the team with nine double-doubles for the season, including her first match in a Trojan uniform against Southeast Missouri State on Aug. 31 (22 digs, 17 kills). Besides being second in kills per set in the SBC, Milanovic sits ninth in both aces (0.24 per set) and hitting percentage (.282).

Begic is the third player to win Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year for UALR, joining Barbara Gomez (1997) and Tanja Radovic (2000). A Trojan has been selected All-Conference 35 times. Finally, Begic broke the school record for kills per set in a match on Oct. 25 against Troy, tallying 28 kills in only three sets (9.33 kills per set).

All-America teams will be announced on Dec. 18.

While Begic may end up being the first UALR All-American volleyball player, there’s a chance the second is already playing by her side. Sophomore Sonia Milanovic paired with Begic to make up the nation’s top spiking duo. She was the first Trojan to break the 30+ kills in a match barrier, matching the- then school record for kills in a match (34) against Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Sept. 7. She finished second in kills per set in the Sun Belt with 3.99 kills per set. That’s 41st in the nation.

Congrats, Edina and Sonia. I hope you lead UALR to a season for the ages in 2014.

UPDATE: They did indeed pull of that historic season. I wrote about it for the Arkansas Times here.

[Check out photographer Jim Hilton’s other superb sports photographs here]