Aug. 29, 2008
MILWAUKEE, Wis. - The University of Tennessee Lady Volunteer volleyball team got the 2008 season off to a quick start Friday afternoon, downing in-state rival Chattanooga in three straight sets, 25-13, 25-14, 25-18, in the opening contest of the Marquette Kickoff Tournament at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee, Wis. The Orange and White held the Lady Mocs to a -.100 hitting percentage in the match, which lasted only one hour and 18 minutes.
"I am very happy with this performance to open up the season," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "I thought the team brought a tremendous focus, especially to the first two games. I feel that the areas where we were inconsistent were due to either the usual opening game jitters or the fact that we did not make a decision on a starting lineup until later in the preseason than usual."
Sophomore Nikki Fowler, the 2007 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, led all players with 13 kills in the contest, in addition to notching nine digs and four blocks. The only other Lady Vol to reach double-digits in kills was senior Milan Clarke who knocked out 10 putaways on 21 swings with a mere three errors for a UT-best .333 hitting percentage.
"This was a definitely a good way to start off the season and a positive step forward after last year," Fowler said. "As a whole, I thought our team played well, but we still have some things to work out. It was good to get out on the court and get a win under our belts though."
Defensively, junior Chloe Goldman tallied a team-high 10 digs, while UTC libero Lara Newberry, the national leader in digs in 2007, totaled 17 of her own. In her first match wearing the Orange and White, junior Michaela Hanakova finished third on the squad with seven digs, while pacing the UT offense with 20 assists. Junior Leah Hinkey, meanwhile, accumulated seven blocks in the contest to edge out totals of six by fellow classmate Farren Powe and senior Mindy Flynn for the match high.
"Nikki started this season right where she left off last year, providing us with an effective and consistent offensive weapon. I was especially pleased that we were able to have her attack from all areas of the net.
"Overall, our defense was more in sync than our offense," Patrick said. "Our middle blockers were all terrific at closing the block, while our right and left-side blockers set the blocks in the right areas all afternoon. Specifically, I thought that Mindy, Leah, Nikki, Farren and Milan all did a great job of slowing balls down and defending the attack."
Despite playing for the first time in nearly nine months, the Lady Vols came out of the gates on fire. With Fowler blasting away from the back row and the entire team playing solid defense, UT dominated the initial set to the tune of a 25-13 score. With seven kills in the frame, Fowler had more putaways than the entire Lady Moc squad which had five.
UT wasted little time gaining the early advantage, claiming the first three points and seven of the first eight. Chattanooga took advantage of four unforced errors by the Lady Vols to move back within three at 8-5, but the Orange and White answered right back with a five-point run, featuring a pair of back-row blasts by Fowler. From that point on, the Tennessee would lead by no fewer than seven points the rest of the way en route to the victory.
The second set was more of the same for the Big Orange which used a strong finish to claim a 25-14 triumph and go into the locker room with a two-game lead. The biggest difference in the frame was the fact that Tennessee held the Lady Mocs to just five kills, while forcing 11 errors on 39 swings for a -.154 hitting percentage. The Big Orange, meanwhile, utilized a balanced offensive attack, getting kills from six different players.
Much like the first set, UT got off on the right foot, staking claim to six of the first eight points and never looking back. Although Chattanooga was able to narrow its deficit to two on three different occasions, the Lady Vols always had an answer and kept their opponent from gaining any momentum. With the score at 18-12, the Orange and White used a four-point spree, featuring kills from Clarke, junior Kylie Marshall and Hinkey to effectively put the game away.
In the third and final frame, Chattanooga raced out to a four-point advantage before the Lady Vols could gather themselves and get on the board with a blast from Clarke straight down the left-side of the court. That kill sparked UT which proceeded to win five of the next six points to go ahead 6-5. A pair of attack errors, however, quickly erased that advantage and gave it back to UTC before Clarke came to the rescue once again with a shot that fell wide off the Lady Moc block to tie it up at seven-all. After a ball-handling error was called on the Chattanooga setter on the following play, Fowler gave her team a two-point cushion with her 10th kill of the afternoon.
Yet again, the Lady Mocs proved tricky to put away though, shrinking the lead back down to one with scores on two of the following three plays. At that point, Fowler decided she had seen enough and pushed her play to another level. In the span of just six points, the Dallas, Texas, native collected three kills and a block to put UT up 16-10. The dominating run left Chattanooga momentarily stunned, but it had one more comeback attempt left.
After trading the next eight points after Fowler's spree, the Lady Mocs then won four out of five to cut the UT advantage to just three at 21-18 and force Patrick to use his first timeout of the match. The pause in play proved to be just what the Lady Vols needed, however, as a sharp cross-court kill by Powe and back-to-back blocks by Powe and Flynn put Tennessee at match point. After a strong jump serve by Marshall forced an over pass, freshman Kayla Jeter smashed down the first kill of her young career to end the contest and give the Big Orange its first victory of the season.
Tennessee will be back in action at the Marquette Kickoff Tournament Saturday morning when it will take on Houston at 10:30 a.m. CT. Later in the afternoon, the Lady Vols will close out their stay in the Badger State with a 7 p.m. match-up against host-team Marquette.