The University of Arkansas added one of the nation's top recruiters to its athletic staff when Robert Pulliza was introduced as the head coach of Razorback Volleyball on July 11, 2008. Pulliza, one of just a handful of coaches in the country to play and coach in the Final Four, is the second head coach in program history.
As a player, Pulliza was a two-year captain for the Ball State men's volleyball team and helped lead the Cardinals to the NCAA Final Four in 1994 and 1995. Then as an assistant coach at Wisconsin, Pulliza helped guide the Badgers to the Final Four during the 2000 season.
Through his seven seasons at the helm of the Arkansas program, Pulliza has seen his student-athletes collect six AVCA All-America accolades, 10 AVCA All-South Region certificates and 15 All-SEC honors. Among those awards, Jasmine Norton was the 2009 Freshman of the Year for both the AVCA All-South Region and SEC, while Amanda Anderson capped her career as the 2012 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
On the recruiting front, Pulliza has added seven top-100 players to his roster in the past three seasons with Liz Fortado (No. 75) and Ana Sofia Jusino (79) in 2011, the trio of Breana Jones (52), Danielle Harbin (78) and Megan Mollett (97) in 2012, and 2013 recruits Shelby Harper (93) and Sophie Bethke (95). The past two recruiting seasons have produced top-30 PrepVolleyball rankings with the 2012 class earning the top spot among SEC teams and the No. 16 ranking in the country, the highest in program history.
Pulliza's effect on the Arkansas program can also be measured by the team's reflection in the Rating Percentage Index (RPI). When he took over in 2008, the Razorbacks were ranked No. 140. In the first RPI release of the 2012 season, Arkansas was the top-ranked SEC team at No. 16. The team was a mainstay in the RPI top 30 throughout the 2012 campaign. Arkansas matched its No. 16 ranking in the initial 2013 RPI release.
The 2013 season saw Arkansas make a second-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, the program's first back-to-back postseason appearances since the 2005 and 2006 seasons. In addition to AVCA All-America Honorable Mention performances by senior Raymariely Santos and junior Meredith Hays, senior Emily Helm eclipsed the 1,000-dig mark in her two-year Razorback career and earned the second and third SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors of her career. Under Pulliza's watch, Santos finished her career ranked second in assists (3,661), 12th in digs (933) and 18th in service aces (62).
Following the season, Pulliza continued the program's recent trend of seeing its seniors extend their careers into the professional ranks. Santos and fellow 2013 senior Ashley Vazquez became the sixth and seventh Razorbacks over the past two years to sign with a professional league. That list also includes Anderson, Norton, Roslandy Acosta, Kasey Heckelman and Janeliss Torres-Lopez.
In 2012, Pulliza guided the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament and posted a 22-10 overall record with a 13-7 tally in Southeastern Conference play. Both win totals represent highs for the program under Pulliza's watch. The 20-win season is the first for Arkansas since the 2005 season, three years prior to Pulliza arriving in Fayetteville. The trip to the NCAA Tournament was the program's first since the 2006 season.
Individually, Acosta and Norton were recognized as All-Americans by the AVCA and named to the All-SEC First and Second Teams, respectively. Conference honors continued with Anderson being named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Fortado earning a spot on the All-Freshman Team. Arkansas' four SEC selections represent the program's largest single-season collection since 2003.
Under Pulliza's watch, Norton became just the second player in program history to be selected to the All-SEC Team all four years of her career and the first to be recognized with two AVCA All-America honors. She finished her career as the second-most prolific attacker in program history and No. 8 on the all-time SEC list with 1,799 career kills. Norton also became just the sixth Arkansas player with 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs.
Using a fast-paced offense and building a competitive home schedule, Pulliza built a fan-friendly brand of volleyball that brought in the fans. Arkansas' 2012 home attendance increased for the fourth consecutive season, setting a single-season record for total attendance at Barnhill Arena. Seven of the top-10 home crowds have come during the past three seasons, including a program-record 3,015 fans in attendance for the Razorbacks' 2012 SEC opener against No. 13 Florida.
Having completed his fourth season with the Razorbacks in 2011, Pulliza continued to guide his team toward joining the nation's elite. At season's end, Arkansas owned an 18-13 overall record and a 10-win SEC tally. At the time, the conference total was the most by the program since the league went to the double round-robin format. The Razorbacks finished second in the SEC Western Division and fifth overall, the team's best conference finish since the 2005 season.
As part of its non-conference schedule, Arkansas claimed a pair of tournament titles with victories at the Deacon Invitational in Winston-Salem, N.C., and the West Point Challenge in New York. The Razorbacks' record to start SEC play (8-3) was the sixth-best in program history.
Individually, Norton, a preseason All-SEC selection, and Kelli Stipanovich capped their respective seasons by earning All-SEC honors. Norton was named to the All-SEC First Team and Stipanovich, the fourth all-conference performer under Pulliza, was named to the All-SEC Second Team. For the first time since 2003, Arkansas had two players on either the league's First- or Second-Team. Norton added to her collection of honors with a selection to COBRA Magazine's Midsouth All-Region Team.
In his third season at the helm of the Arkansas volleyball program, Pulliza guided the youthful 2010 Razorbacks to a fourth-place finish in the Western Division and a seventh-place overall conference finish. All six conference teams ahead of Arkansas advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
With a roster that featured no seniors in 2010, Pulliza saw two of his underclassmen standouts recognized by the SEC coaches at the end of the season. Norton earned a spot on the All-SEC Second Team, the second such honor of her career, and Santos became the ninth player in Razorback history to earn SEC All-Freshman honors. She joined Anderson and Norton as the three all-freshman selections for Pulliza at that time; Fortado became the fourth in 2012.
During the season, Norton led the SEC offensively with 3.83 kills per set. With the accomplishment, she became the first player in Arkansas volleyball history to lead the conference in kills per set over the course of an entire season. At her setter position, Santos earned two Freshman of the Week awards and one Defensive Player of the Week selection. Freshman Brooke Fournier was also selected to the USA Junior A2 National Team that competed in Europe during the summer of 2011.
In 2009, on the talents of the youngest roster since the program's inaugural season, the Razorback volleyball team took tremendous strides during Pulliza's second year as head coach. Picked to finish 10th in the Southeastern Conference in the preseason coaches' poll, the Razorbacks exceeded all expectations to post the sixth-best record in the league.
As impressive as the team's development, the emergence of Norton as Arkansas' go-to player on the outside was instrumental to the team's success. Norton was a member of Pulliza's first recruiting class at Arkansas, which was ranked in the nation's top 45 by PrepVolleyball.com.
During her first season in Cardinal and White, Norton became the sixth All-American in Razorback program history when she was selected as an Honorable Mention performer by the AVCA. In addition to her national recognition, Norton was named the SEC and South Region Freshman of the Year, earned a spot on the All-SEC Second Team and garnered All-South Region Honorable Mention accolades. During the season, the Rowlett, Texas, native set an SEC record by earning six league Freshman of the Week awards, all of which came during conference play.
That initial group of recruits also included Anderson, the very first commitment for Pulliza as Arkansas' head coach. Anderson and Norton were both named to the SEC All-Freshman Team, the seventh and eighth All-Freshman selections in program history. During the season, Anderson earned all-tournament honors at the TCU Invitational and Arkansas Invitational, the latter resulting in the 6-2 middle blocker being named the SEC Freshman of the Week.
Pulliza's first season with the Razorback Nation included a pair of SEC sweeps and his first foray into the SEC Coaches' Beach Volleyball Championship. He also helped then-freshman Stipanovich earn a spot on the USA Junior A2 National Team that traveled to Europe during the summer of 2009.
In addition to his success at the collegiate level, Pulliza has also gained international experience with the Puerto Rico and USA National Team programs. In 2000 and 2001, he was an assistant with the USA Youth National Team, with the 2000 team earning a silver medal at the NORCCA Zonal Championship. Pulliza went on to serve as an assistant coach with the USA National A2 team in the summer of 2003.
Most recently, Pulliza continued his international outreach in July 2012 where he served as the head coach for the USA/BIP Development Team at the 2nd Annual China-USA Challenge. During the tour, Pulliza and his team, which included Norton, competed against the professional teams from Liaoning, Shanghai and Tianjin.
In the spring of 2010 and with Pulliza on staff, the Puerto Rico Youth National Team won the bronze medal at the NORCECA Girls' Youth Continental Championship. The top-three finish ensured a trip to the 2011 FIVB Youth World Championship in Turkey. In February 2010, Pulliza was part of the coaching staff that took the Puerto Rico Junior National Team to Lima, Peru, to compete in the Summer Cup. The team played Chile, the Dominican Republic and Peru, picking up a win against the Chilean team. As well as his assistant coach duties, Pulliza has also served as a consultant for Puerto Rico.
Pulliza, who just completed his third season as a member of the AVCA Postseason Awards Committee for the South Region, has also been actively involved in the community since arriving in Fayetteville. Along with his wife, he established the Robert and Jamie Pulliza Opportunity Scholarship in 2009. The scholarship was established for a non-athlete attending the University of Arkansas based on academic achievement, leadership and community engagement. Hayden Herrera was the first recipient of the scholarship and graduated from the University in 2012.
In a further show of his dedication to the University and community, Pulliza is a member of the Athletic Director's Council on Diversity. In 2012, El Latino, an Arkansas Times publication, named Pulliza to the Who's Who list of the Latino Community in the state of Arkansas.
Pulliza came to Fayetteville after stops in some of the nation's best programs, including, most recently, the University of Kentucky where he served as the associate head coach.
He was instrumental in re-energizing the Kentucky program upon his arrival in 2004. His recruiting prowess with the Wildcats was evident as his 2007 class was ranked No. 8 in the country. He followed with the 17th-ranked recruiting class in 2008. Pulliza's class in 2006 was ranked 26th by PrepVolleyball.com.
One of the standouts from Pulliza's initial recruiting class at Kentucky, setter Sarah Rumely, went on to be voted the 2008 SEC Player of the Year and two-time All-American. During her first season, Rumely was twice named the SEC Freshman of the Week en route to being named the SEC Freshman of the Year.
Kentucky made three NCAA tournament appearances in Pulliza's three seasons for the first time in school history. In addition, Pulliza helped guide the Wildcats to a 20-win season for the first time since 1993. Kentucky had three consecutive 17-plus win seasons including back-to-back 19-win years and Pulliza coached nine All-SEC members and 10 All-SEC Academic honorees.
Pulliza's college coaching career began in 1996 as an assistant coach at James Madison University. The Dukes began the season with an RPI outside the top 200 but ended the year with a No. 61 RPI ranking. He moved on to Northern Illinois for the 1998-99 season helping the Huskies to the Mid-American Conference regular season title and second round of the NCAA Tournament in 1998.
Pulliza's next endeavor was in Madison, Wis., where he served as the recruiting coordinator and offensive coordinator for the Badgers from 1999-2001. He is credited with recruiting Volleyball Magazine's sixth-best class in the country in 2001. In addition, Pulliza found himself on the sidelines as the Badgers won the Big Ten title and were in the NCAA Final Four Championship match in 2000.
The next stop for Pulliza was the University of Texas where he helped revitalize the Longhorn program. While serving as recruiting coordinator for the Longhorns, Pulliza signed Student Sports Magazine's second-ranked recruiting class in the nation in 2003 and landed PrepVolleyball.com's 13th-ranked class in 2004.
A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Pulliza is a 1996 graduate of Ball State with a degree in general studies. Pulliza received his master's degree in athletics administration and coaching in 1998 from James Madison University. He is married to Jamie Pulliza, who is a speech pathologist. The couple resides in Fayetteville.