Sept. 25, 2009
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Playing at home for the first time in almost a month, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (7-4, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) fed off the energy provided by the 852 Orange and White faithful in attendance as it gave Lady Vol Head Coach Rob Patrick his 250th career victory with a sweep over Arkansas (7-4, 1-1 SEC), 25-19, 25-20, 26-24, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Friday night.
"It's always good to get a win at home and the crowd really helped us tonight," Patrick said. "We started off pretty slow in the first set, but once we got things going, our fans really got behind us and pushed us along. The same thing happened in the third set. We made some errors early and Arkansas was serving tough and putting us on our heels, but the crowd made a big difference and helped us claw back in it and ultimately win the match.
"Overall, I was really pleased with our offense today," Patrick said. "Both of our setters, Kelsey (Mahoney) and Emily (Steinbeck), did a very nice job of setting consistently hittable balls to all of our hitters. They also did a tremendous job of distributing their sets and getting everyone involved, which helped keep Arkansas off-balance defensively."
The Big Orange posted one of its best offensive performances of the season, hitting at an impressive .352 clip as a team. That mark is good for the squad's second-highest attack percentage of the year, trailing just the .380 standard it set against Tennessee Tech in its season opener.
Leading the way was junior Nikki Fowler who finished with a match-high 13 kills and a solid .385 hitting percentage. The Dallas, Texas, native also added nine digs and a pair of blocks in the victory. Not far behind, however, were Lady Vol middle blockers senior Farren Powe and junior Leah Hinkey who posted 10 kills each. Powe did so with no errors on 17 swings, while Hinkey had just two errors on 16 attacks for attack averages of .588 and .500, respectively.
"Our middles have really been working hard in practice at getting better every day," Patrick said. "There are some matches that we use them to set things up and others where we feel that they can get some kills, but they were able to do both of those things today. Not only did Leah and Farren get 10 kills each, but that created some splits in the blocks for our outsides, which made them more effective. I was also excited about the fact that they both attacked the ball with authority and were able to manufacture some kills against some pretty good Arkansas defenders."
Powe also paced the team's stellar blocking effort with six of the squad's 16 putbacks. Senior libero Chloe Goldman, meanwhile, topped UT in the digs category with 14 scoops, increasing her career total to 1,369 which places her 105 behind Kristy Dobson's school record of 1,474.
Despite helping to stake Arkansas to a five-point lead early in the opening frame, the Big Orange was able to right the ship and cruised to a 25-19 triumph. Fowler accumulated nearly half of her kill total for the match with six putaways in the set, hitting .444 with just two errors on nine attempts. The Razorbacks came out of the gates on fire, racing out to a 7-2 advantage behind the strength of a pair of three-point runs. That lead would be short-lived, however, as a Hinkey kill down the right-side line helped Tennessee halt the momentum and steady itself. Following a service error, back-to-back kills by Fowler sparked a 7-1 spree that also included three UT blocks and put the Orange and White up 10-9.
The Lady Vols continued to slowly increase their lead until the scoreboard read 17-14 in their favor following a Razorback attack error that prompted a timeout from Arkansas Head Coach Robert Pulliza. Although his team would get one of the scores back on a kill by Katelyn McCarthy, UT bumped its lead back up to five at 20-15 with putaways by Fowler and Powe and an attack error by Jasmine Norton.
The Razorbacks were not going to do down easily though, taking advantage of a Lady Vol service error to kick start a three-point run that put them down by just two scores at 21-19. A timeout by Patrick proved to be just what the team needed, however, and Tennessee finished off the set with four consecutive scores, capped off by kills from Fowler and Hinkey.
Once again, the Big Orange found itself down early in the second set, trailing by two after just eight plays. Kills by Hinkey, freshman Leslie Cikra and Fowler fixed that problem in a hurry though. UT would tally the next two scores as well on an attack error by Amanda Anderson and another kill by Cikra to jump ahead 8-5.
The lead would increase to five before Arkansas mounted what turned out to be its only real threat of the frame, scoring four straight to move within one at 11-10. Senior Kylie Marshall blasted out a kill from the back-row to stop the Razorbacks in their tracks though. Shortly thereafter, Tennessee turned its one-point advantage into four with a kill from Hinkey, a block by Powe and Fowler and a putaway by Powe. Now up 20-16, the Lady Vols cruised to victory, taking the frame 25-20 on a solo block by sophomore Kayla Jeter.
The third and final frame was the closest of the match, as the Orange and White had to fight its way back from a deficit that reached as many as eight scores before finally claiming a hard-fought, 26-24, decision.
The Razorbacks looked like a different team following the intermission, tallying seven consecutive points to take a 9-3 advantage early on. Although a Cikra kill put an end to that run, Arkansas kept applying the pressure, scoring three straight just moments later to put UT in a 13-5 hole.
The Lady Vols finally got on a roll of their own, as a Powe kill was followed by a Razorback attack error and a putaway by Jeter to move the score to a more respectable 13-8. The deficit would move to six before the Orange and White struck again, scoring three straight on a pair of kills from Fowler, sandwiched around an ace by Jeter.
Trailing by five just seven plays later, the Big Orange finally made its move, tying things up with a 5-0 run featuring kills by Marshall, Jeter and Powe, a sharp block by Jeter and Powe and an unforced Razorback error. Although Arkansas retook the lead on a smash by Kristin Seaton, the Lady Vols were undeterred, knotting things back up at 21-all.
Although a service error gave the ball back to Arkansas once again, that would be the last lead the Razorbacks would see all match as Marshall and Fowler put UT up 23-22 with back-to-back putaways. The Orange and White would earn its first shot at match-point shortly thereafter, following a kill by Hinkey, but it was thwarted when Anderson knocked a kill of her own off the block. Fowler would respond by smashing a kill that landed just inside the back-line, however, which allowed Cikra and Powe to finish off the contest with a sharp block on an attack by Allison Johnson.
Tennessee will next be in action Sunday evening when it hosts Ole Miss at 5 p.m. The match will mark the Lady Vols' third-ever appearance on the Worldwide Leader in Sports, as it is set to be televised live on ESPNU with Sam Gore and Kelli Tennant on the call.