Sept. 26, 2004
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The University of Tennessee volleyball team is off to its best start in 31 years following a 30-23, 30-23, 30-24 victory over Mississippi State on Sunday afternoon at Stokely Athletics Center. The Lady Vols now have a 12-1 mark (2-0 in Southeastern Conference play), surpassing all season-opening marks dating back to the 1973 squad. That team, which would finish in 15th place at the AIAW National Championships, started their campaign with 20-0, 27-1 and 36-2 marks on its way to a 38-6 final record.
The Big Orange's outstanding .381 hitting percentage against the Bulldogs was the seventh time UT has hit .300 or higher this season. Leading the powerful attack were senior outside hitter Michelle Piantadosi (Boca Raton, Fla. / Olympic Heights H.S.), junior middle blocker Kristen Andre (Kelseyville, Calif. / Kelseyville H.S.) and freshman outside hitter Yuliya Stoyanova (Sofia, Bulgaria / 81 SOU Victor Hugo H.S.).
Piantadosi hit .519 (17-3-27), including outstanding games one (.500, 5-0-10) and two (.529, 8-1-10). Andre hit .452 (17-3-31), tallying 10 kills in game two alone. Stoyanova hit at a .438 clip (9-2-16) against the Bulldogs.
Junior setter Julie Knytych (LaGrange Park, Ill. / Lyons Township H.S.) tallied 50 assists and now has 629 on the season (14.30/game) and 3,279 on her career, inching closer to third place on the all-time Lady Vol list, currently held by Wendy Jones' (1986-89) 3,541.
Sophomore libero Annie Sadowski (Wheaton, Ill. / Wheaton-Warrenville H.S.) led UT in digs today with 10. Block leaders included Piantadosi (three) and Andre (two).
"MSU played differently than we've seen in the past," Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "They beat South Carolina in three (on Friday), so we knew they were a strong team and if we didn't come to play, we'd be in trouble. They're bigger at the net with the addition of some talented freshmen, are very organized and played hard. We weren't defending their outside hitters as well as we wanted to, which we need to do a better job at. (MSU junior) Orsolya Kriegel did a nice job today (hitting .783, 18-0-23)."
Tennessee took a commanding 23-13 advantage in game one, but Mississippi State rallied back to within four at 26-22 with a 9-3 run. Three kills by senior outside hitter Whitney Gifford (York, Pa. / Dallastown H.S.) in the last five rallies gave UT the game one victory, 30-23.
In game two, the Orange and White grabbed a 12-5 lead before the Bulldogs came within three at 16-13. Tennessee then went on a 9-4 run for a 25-17 advantage before winning with an identical 30-23 final score.
UT took a 26-18 advantage in game three before freshman outside hitter Brittany Zahn (Charlotte, N.C. / Charlotte Catholic H.S.) put the game and match away, 30-24, with the first kill of her career.
Tennessee next heads to Columbia, S.C., to face South Carolina at 7 p.m. on Wednesday before returning home to play Kentucky at 2 p.m. on Sunday. This weekend, the Gamecocks rebounded from a 3-0 loss to Mississippi State to sweep Ole Miss, 3-0, and stand at 8-3, 1-1 in SEC play. The Wildcats are off to a 0-2 start in SEC play (9-4 overall) after dropping tough home matches this weekend to Alabama (3-2) and Auburn (3-1).