Aug 30, 2013
CINCINNATI, Ohio -- The Tennessee volleyball team opened the 2013 season with a five-set win over Morehead State. The Lady Vols topped the Golden Eagles, 3-2 (14-25, 25-23, 25-22, 17-25, 15-12) on the opening day of the Cincinnati Invitational Friday morning at Fifth Third Arena.
"I was very excited about how we were able to come back throughout the match and play better and better as the match went along," head coach Rob Patrick said. "Morehead State is a very well-coached team. They had a lot more experience on the court than we did. They are used to winning. They had the longest winning streak in the NCAA last year. I was very pleased for us to come out and get the jitters out in the first set because we made a lot of unforced errors. I think that has to do with how young we are and freshmen getting first time in Division I match, but they really settled down."
The Lady Vols were led by freshmen duo of Ashley Mariani and Jamie Lea, who combined for 20 kills (10 apiece) during the match, as well as junior Shealyn Kolosky who added seven kills. Sophomore setter Lexi Dempsey dished out 25 assists and had nine digs for the Lady Vols, while freshmen Raina Hembry and Lea combined for 13 rejections.
"Our freshmen really filled up the stat sheet for us," Patrick said. "Ashley Mariani and Jamie Lea led us in attempts in kills. Raina Hembry did a great job blocking. She had eight blocks and also some offensive numbers for us. I was very happy with them, but beyond that, I was really proud of those three because as the match went on, they really settled down. They did the little things well, which will help us with our season as we go along."
All-American senior Ellen Mullins scooped up 31 digs, three shy of her career-best, while junior Nikki Brice set a career-high with 17 digs. The duo accounted for more than half of Tennessee's digs (48 of 84).
"The people really set the tone for us and settled us down were the two upperclassmen, Nikki Brice and Ellen Mullins," Patrick said. "They led us in digs and they took most of the passes. They did a fantastic job of covering the court and allowing us to run our offense. That's what really won the match for us, was the play Nikki and Ellen."
Morehead State jumped to an early 8-2 lead in the opening set as the young Tennessee team worked out some first-game jitters. Mariani paced UT with three kills, but the Eagles came out on top, taking the first set, 14-25.
The newcomer trio of Mariani, Hembry and Lea shined at the net in the second set, with Kolosky coming up big with four kills. UT got out to an early 12-3 lead before Morehead State got their momentum back. The Lady Vols were up 20-15 as the Eagles responded with a close run. Tennessee prevailed and took the second set 25-23.
The two squads battled back and forth throughout the third set as Tennessee came out on top 25-22. UT went up 8-4 in the fourth, but Morehead State responded with four-straight points to tie it up, 8-8. The two teams dueled at the net over the next eight points, before getting tied up again at 16-16. Morehead State closed out on an eight-point run and took the fourth set, 17-25.
The Orange & White proved themselves in the fifth set. After trailing 0-2, senior Whitney Heeres laid down a kill. Morehead State tallied three-straight attack errors to give UT a 5-2 advantage. The Eagles caught back up with Tennessee, tying it at 11-11. A big block from Hembry and Mariani followed by a service ace from Brice gave the Lady Vols a 14-11 lead and an attack error by MSU's Courtney Smith gave UT set and match point, 15-11.
Tennessee is now 32-9 all-time in season openers, and 13-4 under Patrick.
The Big Orange faces host Cincinnati tonight at 7 p.m. ET. The Lady Vols lead the series 5-3.