Kevin Kopps, D-Mac and Corliss Need to Make Room for Jill Gillen after Epic Performance

Jill Gillen
Arkansas Athletics

Great student-athletes find themselves at or near the top of their school’s record books, but the greatest of the great – the most beloved of all – go a step beyond that. 

They rise up to show out in the most trying of moments, against the toughest opponents. 

That’s exactly what senior leader Jill Gillen recently did for Arkansas volleyball in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round against a Kentucky team the program had not defeated since 2012. Things were looking bleak, as the Lady Razorbacks found themselves down a set and struggling in the second set, their great season teetering in the balance. The Razorbacks had lost five straight sets to the Wildcats dating back to the regular season and it did not help that Arkansas’ No. 2 leader in kills, Taylor Head, was an abysmal 1 for 19 on kill attempts.

That’s when “Jill the Kill” pushed things to a whole other gear, on par with the kind of greatness Kevin Kopps, Darren McFadden and only a select few others have flashed for the Razorbacks over the years. 

The four-time All-SEC outside hitter helped push the Razorbacks back into the lead six different times in the set. When she was most needed, when Arkansas trailed or was tied, the 5’7” dynamo delivered seven kills and two digs. 

As Arkansas climbed back into the set, Gillen’s teammates stepped up. Head found a groove and had three kills. Maggie Cartwright had a couple kills and an ace, Hannah Hogue played magnificent defense while Courtney Jackson finished the set off with an ace. The Razorbacks ended up beating Kentucky three sets to two to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in history. When the smoke cleared, Gillen had led the way with 20 kills on 46 swings and just two errors on the night.

Bruce Lee Kicking and Jill Gillen

As a reminder, a kill is awarded to a player any time an attack is un-returnable by the opposition and is a direct cause of the opponent not returning the ball, or any time the attack leads directly to a blocking error by the opposition. Most kills look like a slam or a punch of the ball down into the opponent’s side of the court. 

A Jill Gillen kill is a knockout blow. Although very undersized for her position, she makes up for it with her incredible leaping ability routinely clearing 10 feet high. A Jill Gill Kill starts with a huge vertical leap followed by a dominating punch of the ball punctuated with a Bruce Lee-like kick that I can only assume gives her some extra power:

She flashed that explosiveness in the second set when going up to hit the ball, but two of Kentucky’s defenders at 5’10” and 6’ leaped and created what should have been a sealed block – there shouldn’t have been anywhere for the opponent attempting the kill to go. Ninety nine percent of the time this works, but not this time. Instead, Gillen uncoiled so much power onto the ball that it pushed back the arms of the larger Kentucky players, who let the ball drop to their side for a Razorback point.

Gillen already stands in the Arkansas volleyball annals as the program’s all-time leader in kills and aces, but her performance on Thursday shows she deserves to be put on the Mt. Olympus for greatest Razorbacks regardless of sport.

As you can see by the list below, such a star only comes around once in a decade or so at the University of Arkansas in the team sports. The first we’ll look had one of his greatest performances against Nebraska. Coincidentally, No. 1 Nebraska is also Arkansas volleyball’s next opponent. 

Arkansas Razorback Best of the Best

Kevin Kopps


Years: 2016-2021 


  • Golden Spikes Award winner (Best player in college baseball)
  • Unanimous All-American selection
  • Posted a 0.90 ERA his senior season with 131 K’s in 89 innings

Greatest Moments:

Kopps was dominant his entire senior year. At one point he retired 28 batters in a row, striking out 19. His most important performance might have come at the end of the year in the Fayetteville regional. Facing Nebraska and having already thrown earlier in the weekend Kopps finished out the game going seven innings while giving up only three hits, no runs and striking out 8. The Hogs won the game 6-2 and punched their ticket to the Super Regionals. 

Corliss Williamson


Years: 1992-1995


  • Two-time SEC Player of the Year
  • Two-time All American selection
  • Won a National Championship in the 1993-94 season
  • Led Arkansas to National Championship Game in 1994-95 season

Greatest Moments: 

Williamson scored 29 points, gathered 15 rebounds and dished out five assists in Arkansas basketball’s Final Four win against Arizona in 1994. He then followed that up with 23 points and eight rebounds to defeat Duke in the national title game. He averaged 21 points and eight rebounds per game in the tournament and was named the most outstanding player.   

Sidney Moncrief


Years: 1975-1979


  • Two-time All American
  • Southwest Conference Player of the Year (1979)
  • Led Arkansas to three regular season conference championships
  • Led Arkansas to the Final Four (1978)

Greatest Moments:

Along with Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph, Moncrief helped lead the program to its first Final Four of the modern era in 1978. The next year, Moncrief led the Razorbacks to the Elite Eight but lost 73-71 when they ran up against eventual runner up Indiana State and Larry Bird. Moncrief finished with 24 points in that game and left a lasting impression on Larry Bird with his defense.. If you ever wonder why the “Hick from French Lick” didn’t take the last shot in that game, it’s because Sydney Moncrief was guarding him

Darren McFadden


Years: 2005-2007


  • Two time runner up for the Heisman trophy
  • Two-time All American selection
  • All-time leader in career yards and rushing yards in a season
  • Three-time All-SEC selection

Greatest Moments:

McFadden had many memorable moments from an over 300 yard game against South Carolina to a kick return touchdown game against Mississippi State. Probably the most memorable game for McFadden though was the infamous “Bring the wood” game against rival LSU that Eli Drinkwitz felt he was so clever in evoking last month. McFadden ran for over 200 yards in the game with three touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown for the Razorbacks as they upset No. 1 LSU in Death Valley. 

End of an Arkansas Volleyball Career?

Now, Gillen gets a chance to make a mark on another No. 1 team on their home turf. Just as Darren McFadden and the Razorback football team went down to Death Valley to face top-ranked LSU at the end of the regular season, the volleyball squad will take on No. 1 seed Nebraska at 5pm Saturday on ESPNU. 

The Cornhuskers are 31-1 this season and will be playing in their home gym. This is the team that likely set a world record for attendance for a women’s sporting event when 92,000 people came to watch them play in Memorial Stadium, home of Nebraska football. Nebraska has won five national championships. The Cornhuskers are every bit the type of Goliath they appear to be. Consider that while Taylor Head and Jill Gillen are 5’10” and 5’7” respectively, Nebraska doesn’t have an outside hitter measuring under 6’2”. 

“They’re one of the really elite first ball defensive teams,” Arkansas volleyball coach Jason Watson said on Friday. “That block is probably the most disciplined block that I’ve seen, and that certainly leads to their ability to counterattack in transition in that serving phase at a really remarkable rate… when it does get by that block, the quality of their first ball contact is pretty good too, so that’s a handful for us, so we’re going to have to try to negate it in some other ways that we’re probably not going to share with you.”

Nobody is giving Arkansas volleyball and their undersized leader much of a chance in this one. Of course, few people thought Gillen would score a single kill in college, let alone rack up the thousands she has.

Delivering back-to-back masterpieces to help Arkansas volleyball shock the world will be a tall task, but few are better equipped than Gillen to rise to the occasion


Evin Demirel contributed to the above feature.

Facebook Comments