UT junior Emily Steinbeck
Sept. 5, 2009
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
CINCINNATI, Ohio - The University of Tennessee volleyball team (4-1) responded to its first loss of the season with an impressive performance at the Xavier Invitational, sweeping Notre Dame, 25-22, 25-16, 25-22, Saturday afternoon at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Junior Nikki Fowler led the team in kills for the fifth time in as many matches this year with 14, while fellow classmate Emily Steinbeck posted the most impressive performance of her Lady Vol career with a team-high 16 assists and eight digs.
"This is a great win against a very physical, well-coached team," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "I feel really good about this win because of the high level of play that we had to sustain in order to be successful. To be able to do that this early in the season is a great sign. I was interested to see how we would respond to our first loss and the fact that we did not play particularly well yesterday. Overall, I was very pleased with the maturity our team showed in how it prepared for and played in today's match.
"Our offense was much more efficient this afternoon and a large part of that was due to the consistent setting of Emily (Steinbeck) and Kelsey (Mahoney)," Patrick said. "They allowed us to spread the defense and provided our hitters with many one-on-one opportunities. It is good to see Emily getting more comfortable playing in our system and her decision making was terrific today.
"I was also very happy with our blocking," Patrick said. "Both of our middle blockers, Farren (Powe) and Leah (Hinkey), did an excellent job following our game plan, which enabled them to slow down Notre Dame's physical hitters. They really set the tone for our defense today."
In addition to Fowler's offensive performance, the Dallas, Texas, native also recorded eight digs, three blocks and a pair of aces. Senior libero Chloe Goldman led all performers with 12 digs, while fellow classmate Leah Hinkey topped all players with four putbacks. Sophomore setter Kelsey Mahoney had a solid effort as well, notching totals of 13 assists, seven digs and a career-high tying three aces.
"Kelsey has one of the toughest jump-float serves that I have ever seen and it has become another weapon that we have at our disposal," Patrick said. "It takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the team when we are able to start sets by winning the first four or five points and Kelsey allowed us to do that a couple of times today with her strong serving."
Led by a strong effort by Fowler, the Big Orange laid claim to the initial lead of the match with a hard-fought, 25-22, victory in the opening set. Fowler tallied five kills, two aces, a pair of blocks and a dig during the frame. The Lady Vols took the early lead, going up 11-6 following a three-point run that featured a kill by senior Farren Powe and back-to-back aces by Fowler.
With the scoreboard reading 16-12 shortly thereafter, UND came clawing back with a four-score spree that tied it at 16-all and led Patrick to call his first timeout of the contest. After trading the next two scores, UT jumped back up by three behind the strength of a kill by Fowler and consecutive blasts by Powe. This time, it was Notre Dame Head Coach Debbie Brown that benefitted from a timeout, as her squad responded with a trio of scores that returned the match to a 20-20 deadlock.
It looked as if the Irish had taken a 21-20 lead on a kill by Tara Enzweiler, but her arm hit the net on her follow-through giving the point and momentum to Tennessee. The Lady Vols took advantage of the miscue, scoring four of the final six points to finish off the set, 25-22.
Tennessee came out firing on all cylinders to open the second frame, scoring on nine of the first 11 plays. The Big Orange used a variety of tactics, including two aces by Mahoney, a kill by Goldman and a solo block by Powe to tally the initial five scores, before the Fighting Irish recorded their first point on a fluke play in which UT failed to cover an over pass.
The Lady Vols continued to pour it on, adding four more scores over the course of the next five plays to take a commanding 9-2 advantage. Notre Dame was not going to go away that easily though, moving back to within three on the scoreboard with four straight points, forcing Patrick to burn his first timeout of the set in an attempt to steady his troops.
Once again, the short break in play proved to be just what the Orange and White needed to halt UND's momentum, as it proceeded to take six of the next eight scores to go up by seven at 15-8. Following consecutive tallies by the Irish, Tennessee went back on the offensive with another three-point run, capped by an absolute laser by Fowler from the back row.
The Fighting Irish were able to move within four at 19-15 with a 5-1 run, but that would be as close as they would get the rest of the way. A Patrick timeout got the momentum rolling back in UT's favor as his team finished the frame strong, scoring six of the final seven points.
It was Notre Dame's turn to race out to an early lead in the third set, claiming the first four points before a service error got UT on the board. After the Irish scored once again to go up 5-1, the Big Orange found its rhythm, stringing together five straight points to take its first lead of the set. A pair of ND miscues accounted for the first two points before a block party commenced for Tennessee. Freshman Leslie Cikra got it started with a solo block of Serinity Phillips and Hinkey followed with a solo putback of her own. The two then joined forces to make it three blocks in as many plays with a stuff of Phillips on the right side.
The Irish continued to battle, however, retaking a three-point advantage with a 5-1 run, prompting Patrick to call a timeout. Once again, the Lady Vols responded to the short stoppage in play, seizing control of the set with a pair of four-point runs over the next 11 plays. Immediately out of the break, Hinkey smashed a kill to the back-right corner to get things started. A triple block by Fowler, Powe and Kayla Jeter continued the run, which was finished off by consecutive kills by Jeter and Fowler.
Just three plays later, the Orange and White took off on another four-score spree, featuring kills by Jeter and Cikra and Mahoney's third ace of the match, to take a 16-12 advantage. Just moments later, leading by three at 19-16, Notre Dame made one final push and was able to tie it up at 19-all. Tennessee had an immediate answer, however, using a blast by Jeter to kick start a 4-1 run that effectively ended the threat. Kills by Powe and Cikra accounted for UT's final two points of the set, which it won, 25-22, and gave the Big Orange an impressive sweep over the Irish.
Tennessee will close out their stay at the Xavier Invitational Sunday afternoon as they are scheduled to take on the host Musketeers at 3 p.m. at the Cintas Center. Following that contest, the Lady Vols will next be in action Sept. 4 in Chapel Hill, N.C., against North Carolina in the opener of the Carolina Classic. UT will also square off against Colorado State and Marshall in that tournament.