Sept. 30, 2009
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It took all it had, but the University of Tennessee volleyball team (9-4) was able to shrug off a two-set deficit to edge Louisville (8-6) in a five-frame thriller, 23-25, 21-25, 25-18, 25-9, 17-15, Wednesday evening at Cardinal Arena in the Derby City. The last time the Lady Volunteers came from down two sets to win was against No. 7 Notre Dame on Nov. 26, 2005 in South Bend, Ind.. The win also marked the first time that a visiting team has won a match in the UT-Louisville series since it became an annual tradition in 2004.
"This was a great team win against a very physical and well-coached Louisville team," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "We were shooting ourselves in the foot in the first two sets with some unforced serving and hitting errors that really stopped our momentum. However, the team responded in a very mature manner by regrouping during the break and getting more focused at the task at hand. I could not be more proud of the effort and heart that our team showed today."
Handling the majority of the load offensively for Tennessee were junior Nikki Fowler and sophomore Kayla Jeter. The duo combined for 41 of the team's 67 kills, with totals of 21 and 20, respectively. Both far surpassed their previous season-highs and Jeter absolutely annihilated her previous career-best of 14, set against Colorado State earlier this year.
"Our passers were the primary reason for our team's performance and comeback today," Patrick said. "To have zero reception errors in a five-set match against a very tough serving team is incredibly impressive. It allowed our setters to distribute the ball effectively to our hitters, especially to Nikki and Kayla, who did a great job of scoring points for us. They were a terrific one-two punch and both did a tremendous job stepping up their games in sets three, four and five."
Fowler also notched her second consecutive double-double, the 21st of her career, with 13 digs. Senior Chloe Goldman, meanwhile, led the squad in that category with 26 scoops, marking her second-highest output of the season, behind only her 28-dig effort at LSU. Fellow classmate Farren Powe was the squad's most efficient attacker, hitting .368 with 11 kills, in addition to tallying four blocks. Only freshman Leslie Cikra finished with more putbacks, collecting a career-high five in the contest.
"Once again, Chloe did an outstanding job providing us with a lot of transition opportunities," Patrick said. "Louisville has three great outside hitters who can get kills from anywhere on the court and Chloe was instrumental in slowing them down."
Despite six kills from Powe and eight digs from Goldman, Tennessee was unable to take the opening frame from the Cardinals, dropping a hard-fought, 25-23, decision. After the two squads traded the initial nine points of the contest, the Big Orange struck the first blow, notching four consecutive scores to take an 8-5 advantage. UT took advantage of three Louisville miscues during the run in addition to getting a kill by Powe on a blast that she angled just inside the right-side line.
Although the Cardinals would inch back to within just moments later at 10-9, Tennessee would extend its lead once more, going ahead by four with a three-score spree that Fowler capped off with a kill from the outside. A timeout by Louisville Head Coach Leonid Yelin, however, would halt the Orange and White's momentum as his team answered immediately with a trio of points of its own to close the gap to one at 13-12.
Another blast from Fowler would end that run, but UL would go right back on the offensive two plays later, retaking the lead with a 5-1 spurt that moved the tally on the scoreboard to 18-16 in favor of the Cards. Tennessee would threaten once more, getting back-to-back scores on a kill by Fowler and a block by Cikra and Powe on a back-row attack by Lola Arsianbekova, to pull within one at 22-21.
That would not be enough, however, as a kill by Lecia Brown returned the deficit to two and the squads ended the frame just like the started it, by trading the final four points to account for the final score of 25-23.
The Cardinals were able to add to their lead in the second set, winning 25-21 behind the strength of a solid blocking effort. Although the Orange and White took an early two-point lead at 4-2 after getting kills from Jeter and Fowler and a block by Fowler and Hinkey, Louisville quickly regained its composure and struck for three straight scores.
The Lady Vols responded with a pair of points of their own, including an ace by Fowler that narrowly snuck inside the back line, but the Cards had other ideas in mind as they proceeded to rattle off a quartet of scores to go up 9-6. UT refused to go away though, using a 6-1 spree shortly thereafter to jump back out in front, 13-11.
A Louisville ball-handling error got things started for the Big Orange and senior Kylie Marshall followed with a kill on a tip from the right side to the middle of the court. Although a UT serve found the net on the next play, it got the ball right back on a service error by the Cardinals and moved within one at 10-11 on an attack error by Amanda Simmons. Back-to-back kills by Marshall and Jeter then finished off the run with the Lady Vols up by two.
Tennessee would slowly increase its lead to three at 18-15, but would be unable to hold on as Louisville closed out the frame by winning 10 of the final 13 points to claim the frame, 25-21. The Cards were especially effective at the net, recording four blocks during that span.
An absolute battle ensued in the third set, but the Big Orange was able to get on the scoreboard with a 25-18 victory. Jeter and Fowler both added four kills to the effort, while Cikra posted a trio of big blocks during the frame. Even more impressive may have been the fact that UT kept the Cardinals from scoring more than two consecutive points at any time, siding out at an 88 percent clip.
The Orange and White wasted little time racing out to a secure lead, using a laser from Fowler and back-to-back blocks by Powe and Cikra to go ahead 8-4. Louisville would remain within two scores, even cutting its deficit to one at one point, but the Lady Vols continued to fight off the Cards' efforts until the score reached 19-16. Figuring it had seen enough, the Big Orange used a three-score spree to put the set out of reach. Hinkey kicked it off with a putaway and Fowler followed a UL attack error with a blast down the right-side line. UT then closed out the frame by winning three of the final five scores, with Powe kills accounting for Tennessee's last two points.
Continuing the momentum they had seized with their third-set triumph, the Lady Vols were dominant in the fourth frame, cruising to a 25-9 victory to send the match to a fifth and deciding set. Goldman was spectacular, recording seven digs, while Fowler added four of her own to go with five kills, one block and an ace.
The first play defined UT's play for the entire set as Goldman made a spectacular pancake dig which allowed Jeter to split the back-row defenders for a kill. Fowler and Hinkey then joined forces on a block and a Cardinal attack error gave the Orange and White a quick 3-0 advantage.
Just five plays later, Tennessee embarked on a five-point streak that moved its lead to seven. Included in that run were two kills by Marshall and a kill and an ace from Fowler. Mere seconds later, the Big Orange continue its stellar play with six consecutive scores, bookended by a kill from Jeter and back-to-back aces by sophomore Kelsey Mahoney. With the set effectively in hand, UT won eight of the final 11 points en route to tying its most decisive set victory this season. It also held Tennessee Tech to nine points in the second set of its win on Aug. 29 at the Comcast Lady Vol Classic.
The fifth set not only proved to be the most exciting, but the closest as well, as fans were treated to bonus volleyball before the night was over. Early on, it was all Big Orange as it raced out to a 4-0 lead on a pair of aces by Mahoney and two kills from Jeter. Anastasia Artemeva finally got the Cardinals on the board when she split the left-side block for a kill, but Jeter got the point right back with another putaway.
UT remained ahead by four when the two teams traded sides after a block by Powe and Cikra gave the Lady Vols their eighth point of the frame. Louisville was not going to go down that easily though. Sparked by three consecutive kills from Gosia Lech, the Cards suddenly found themselves down by just one score at 8-7.
Fowler momentarily kept UL at bay by blasting a kill off the right-side block, but the Cardinals were determined and tied the frame up at 9-9 with back-to-back scores. Once again, the Orange and White fought off its counterpart with Powe knocking out a kill cross-court to the back-right corner and Jeter slamming home an over pass. The back-and-forth battle continued until Louisville finally broke through with a pair of scores that put it up 14-13 and gave it a chance to close out the match.
Despite facing match-point in front of 812 raucous fans, Tennessee was able to respond by forcing an attack error to knot it back up at 14-all. Patrick then subbed in sophomore serving specialist Amanda Friday and senior Carol Cheade to help the squad finish things off. The move proved masterful as Friday collected a crucial dig which allowed Fowler to split the right-side block for a kill that gave UT its first match-point opportunity.
Although Lecia Brown bounced a kill inside the 10-foot line on the next play to thwart that attempt, Fowler followed with a blast of her own down the right-side line and a Simmons attack landed wide right to give UT the remarkable victory.
"I was especially proud of Carol and Amanda's performances at the end of the match," Patrick said. "They were put in during a crucial point and their performances specifically allowed us to win the match."
The Orange and White won't have much time to enjoy the victory as it will finish off its three-match road trip this weekend with matches against South Carolina and No. 5 Florida. The Lady Vols will square off with the Gamecocks at 6 p.m. in Columbia on Friday before traveling to Gainesville for a 1:30 p.m. matchup against the Gators on Sunday.