Sept. 3, 2006
LOS ANGELES - The No. 11 University of Tennessee volleyball team (5-1) dropped its first decision of the season, 3-1 to No. 14 Southern California (6-0), in front of 518 hostile fans in the championship match of the LMU/USC Hilton LAX Invitational Sunday afternoon at the Lyon Center.
"This match provided a much-needed test for our team," UT head coach Rob Patrick said. "Not only did it show us what we need to work on in terms of our play on the court, it also let us see that we need to play with more intensity and competitiveness."
"We could have folded after losing the first game, but we battled back and put ourselves in a position to take the match to a fifth game," Patrick said. "Most of our mistakes were due to the fact that we were playing four freshmen who made typical freshman errors. We will take more positives from this match than negatives."
In the loss, four Lady Vols accumulated over 10 kills, with senior Sarah Blum leading the pack with 12. Senior Kelsey Fautsch, junior Yuliya Stoyanova and sophomore Mindy Flynn had 11 kills each. A pair of freshmen, Kylie Marshall and Jena Berg, led UT on the defensive side with 14 and 13 digs, respectively. Blum also tallied a team-high four blocks.
"Although Yuliya's box score may not seem great, she was the back bone of our team today," Patrick said. "Her great passing and clutch hitting allowed us to play more consistently and got us out of trouble a number of times."
"Mindy continues to improve and provide us with an offensive presence on the right side while Sarah had another steady, low-error match," Patrick said. "Chelsea impressed me, once again, with her leadership skills on the court today."
USC opened the match by winning the first eight points and never looked back en route to a 30-11 first-game victory. During that eight-point run, Jessica Gysin completely dominated, recording two kills and a pair of solo blocks. A timeout by Patrick stopped the bleeding somewhat, but the Lady Vols were unable to overcome the early deficit. Senior Kelsey Fautsch was the lone bright spot for UT, punching out three kills in six attempts with just one error to lead the team with a .333 hitting percentage.
The Women of Troy carried their momentum into the second game, jumping out to a quick four-point lead at 8-4. The Lady Vols, playing as many as four freshmen together for long stretches of time, would fight valiantly before eventually succumbing 30-21. In the frame, Blum posted four kills in 10 total attempts without recording an error, for a .400 hitting percentage.
The Lady Vols, however, were not going down without a fight as they claimed a close, hard-fought third game, 30-28. Down 15-10, Patrick called a timeout to rally his troops and kill USC's momentum. The tactic worked as Tennessee fought back to take its first lead of the match at 20-19. A back-and-forth battle ensued with UT prevailing in the end. Flynn finished the set with a .556 attack average, tallying six of her 11 total kills in the frame. The Louisville, Ky., native had just one error in nine attempts.
Once again, UT let the Women of Troy gain the early lead, going down 10-4 to start the fourth game. The Lady Vols, however, did not give up and slowly fought their way back to a 21-21 deadlock. USC then used runs of three and four points, separated by only a single Tennessee score, to win the third game, 30-22. With the victory, they also staked claim to the tournament title.
"This was a great weekend of matches for us as we got to play quite a few players and faced a couple of different styles of volleyball," Patrick said. "For the most part, we were successful at meeting the challenges that we faced."
The Lady Vols will return to competition Sept. 8-9 when they travel to Pittsburgh, Pa., for the Pitt Invitational. UT opens the tournament Friday at 7 p.m. against host-team Pittsburgh. The following day, Tennessee will play a pair of matches, taking on defending-Conference USA champion Marshall at 10:30 a.m. and Lehigh at 5 p.m.