Aug. 30, 2009
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - With a sweep of Lipscomb on Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena, the University of Tennessee volleyball team laid claim to the Comcast Lady Vol Classic title for the fifth time in six seasons. The Big Orange picked up a hard-fought, three-set decision, 26-24, 25-22, 25-23, to move to 3-0 on the season. Junior Nikki Fowler was tabbed as the tournament MVP, while senior Farren Powe and freshman Leslie Cikra also earned mention on the all-tournament team.
"This tournament was exactly what I thought it would be," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "There was a lot of great coaching going on. In every single match we played, we had to change what we initially wanted to do because the other team made adjustments to our game plan. These matches really made our team and coaching staff think, which is exactly what we wanted out of this tournament and will only help us as we move forward this season.
"The difference in today's match was that we were able to win a lot of the big points," Patrick said. "All of the sets were close and we did a terrific job of playing the points at the end of those sets very well, which was huge. Even yesterday (against Western Kentucky) we played those big points well in the fifth set. That just shows that we have a pretty tough team and I am excited about the fact that we have been willing to take the swings necessary to get those crucial points."
With 15 kills in the championship match against Lipscomb, Fowler moved her total to 41 putaways on the weekend, good for second-best among all tournament performers behind only Alex Kelly of Lipscomb who tallied 42. Fowler also finished with the second-most digs in the tournament with a team-high 38 and was tied for third with 10 blocks and tied for the tournament lead with four aces.
On Sunday, Fowler paced the Tennessee offensive attack with 15 putaways and 36 attacks. She narrowly missed out on her second double-double in as many days with nine digs, in addition to posting six blocks.
"Nikki just continues to get better and better every year," Patrick said. "She was here all summer long lifting weights, and it's not a coincidence that she has elevated her play more than anyone else on our team this season. As amazing as she has been offensively, the most impressive improvement she has made is her play defensively. She was our best defensive player this weekend. Period. She was spectacular. I can't wait to see what she has in store for the rest of the year."
Although Powe had a rough day offensively on Sunday, she still hit at an impressive .367 clip with 22 kills for the weekend. Against Lipscomb, the Mobile, Ala., product tallied 10 total blocks, including a pair of solo putbacks, and four digs. She finished as the tournament leader with 16 blocks in three matches, good for an average of 1.45 per set.
"Farren did a great job this weekend," Patrick said. "We've been challenging her to be a better blocker because she is extremely athletic and is a senior. She started off the tournament a little slow but did a good job of making adjustments and working hard to consistently improve. To get 10 blocks in a three-set match like she did today is pretty incredible. She was very important to our success this weekend and will be for the remainder of the season."
A freshman from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Cikra posted eight kills against the Bison on Sunday, in addition to a block and a dig. For the weekend, she finished second on the team with 26 kills on 74 swings. She also added five blocks in her initial foray into collegiate volleyball.
"Leslie brings a great competitive attitude to the floor," Patrick said. "I don't know if I was expecting her to play this well so early in her career, but we knew that she has a big block and hits the ball hard, and she showed that this weekend. We're not afraid to set her in a tight situation because we know she will take the big swing, and, if she doesn't get that point, she wants the ball back immediately rather than being tentative. I'm very excited about Leslie's future."
On Sunday, Tennessee opened the first set by taking advantage of a pair of Lipscomb errors and getting an ace from sophomore setter Kelsey Mahoney to start the match with a 3-0 advantage. Kelly followed with consecutive kills, however, to spark a 5-0 run for the Lady Bisons after which the two squads traded scores before UT senior Kylie Marshall notched three aces in four plays to put UT ahead 10-7.
Fowler and Powe combined on a pair of blocks to keep the Big Orange up by three, 14-11, but Lipscomb moved within a point after a UT ball-handling error. Back-to-back blasts from Fowler ignited a 4-0 Tennessee run that gave the host Lady Vols a commanding 22-17 lead. Lipscomb took advantage of three errors by the Big Orange, though, to tie the frame at 22-all with a five-score spree that forced Patrick to call a timeout.
On the first play out of the break, Fowler uncoiled her fifth kill of the set to put UT ahead by one, but Amy Trykowski answered with a smash of her own. Both teams traded scores until a Marshall kill and Lipscomb error gave the Orange and White the opening set, 26-24.
The Lady Vols opened the second frame with a 6-1 run, highlighted by a pair of aces by Mahoney, but Lipscomb quickly tied the match with an identical spurt coming out of a timeout by Bisons Head Coach Brandon Rosenthal. An emphatic smash from Hinkey ended the Lipscomb run, but relentless attacking from Kelly gave the Lipscomb its first lead of the set, 13-12, in the midst of another 6-1 run that would eventually put Lipscomb ahead by three, 16-13.
Tennessee was not going to go away without a fight, though, as a block by Powe and Fowler tied the frame at 20-all before back-to-back bombs from Fowler got the Orange and White back in front, 22-21. UT then took advantage of a pair of Lipscomb attack errors before Cikra closed out the frame with her fourth kill of the set.
The Big Orange continued to apply the pressure at the opening of the third set, taking a 3-0 advantage behind the strength of more strong serving by Mahoney. The Fort Worth, Texas, native was able to keep the Lady Bisons off balance, resulting in a Cikra kill and consecutive Lipscomb attack errors. LU kept fighting though, tying the frame at 5-5 after a solo block by Pease and an ace from Kelly.
Trailing 7-6 following a kill by Megan Hinemeyer, Tennessee took control of the set with a 7-0 run. Powe and Fowler combined for a pair of blocks and sophomore outside hitter Kayla Jeter pounded out one of her three kills of the match during the game-changing spurt that gave UT a 13-7 advantage.
As was the case all afternoon, Lipscomb simply refused to go away, using a block by Kelly and Pease to move within two at 16-14 and cap a 5-1 run that forced Patrick to call a timeout. An Erin Pierce smash and a long attack from Marshall brought Lipscomb within a point, but Tennessee answered with a solo block from Powe and a back-row laser by Fowler to put give the Lady Vols a 21-18 advantage.
That lead did not prove safe either, as Lipscomb tied the set at 23-all with a 4-1 run, behind the strength of yet another Kelly kill and combined block by Kelly and Hinemeyer. Much like the fifth set in Saturday evening's contest against Western Kentucky, Cikra came up big offensively for UT, ending the Bisons' run with a powerful smash from the outside to put Tennessee within a point of winning the match. Fowler placed the exclamation point on the weekend on the next play, securing the set, 25-23, the match victory and tournament championship with a sharp blast win down the right sideline.
The Lady Vols will be back in action next weekend when they travel to Cincinnati, Ohio, to compete in a tournament at Xavier University. UT will open with a 4 p.m. showdown against No. 16 Michigan, which is coming off a pair of ranked teams at the AVCA Showcase in Omaha, Neb. The Wolverines started their season with an impressive sweep of third-ranked Nebraska before taking out No. 22 Kansas State in four sets. Tennessee will also square off with Notre Dame, which swept No. 5 Stanford on Saturday and host Xavier.
|Comcast Lady Vol Classic All-Tournament Team||Katie Kenline||Tennessee Tech||Sarah Rogers||Western Kentucky||Stefine "Jake" Pease||Lipscomb||Alex Kelly||Lipscomb||Leslie Cikra||Tennessee||Farren Powe||Tennessee||Nikki Fowler (MVP)||Tennessee|