Oct. 1, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Despite sophomore Nikki Fowler's fifth double-double of the season, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (8-6, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) was unable to overcome a talented Kentucky squad (14-2, 5-0 SEC), falling in four sets, 25-19, 20-25, 25-17, 25-19, Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. Fowler recorded a match-high 19 kills in addition to 17 digs in the loss.
"First of all, I want to say that Kentucky played extremely well tonight and I have to tip my hat to them," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "With that said, we simply made way too many hitting errors on balls that we should not have hit out. If we can find a little more consistency on offense and cut down on those types of errors, we will have a lot more success."
Fowler's double-double marked her fifth of the season and 16th of her career. The Dallas, Texas, native also hit at a solid .255 clip with just six errors in a match-high 51 swings.
"Nikki has been carrying us all year long and tonight was no different," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "She keeps coming up huge for us, but we need to get her some more help offensively."
Senior Mindy Flynn also stood out offensively for the Lady Vols, tallying a season-high 14 kills and leading all UT players with a .370 hitting percentage with just four errors in 27 total attempts. The Louisville, Ky., product had a pair of digs and a block as well.
"Mindy has been playing very well offensively as of late," Patrick said. "Unfortunately, we were not able to control the ball as well as we would have liked, which limited our ability to set her in transition tonight. She is one of our most reliable hitters and we simply need to find ways to get her the ball more often."
On the defensive side of the stat sheet, junior libero Chloe Goldman paced the team in the digs category for the eighth consecutive match, edging out Fowler's total with 18 of her own. Fellow classmate Kylie Marshall also reached double-digits with 11 digs, while freshman Alyssa Hilby topped the team with three blocks.
Despite five kills and eight digs by Fowler in the opening frame, the Big Orange was unable to walk away with the early lead, as the Wildcats jumped ahead early and never looked back en route to a 25-19 victory. With the frame tied at 3-3, UK struck the first blow, getting back-to-back kills by Sarah Mendoza, following a Tennessee attack error, to go up by three.
The two squads then traded the next 13 points before another three-score spree by the Wildcats increased their lead to five at 15-10. A timeout by Patrick and a kill by Hilby halted the run, but UK kept control of frame, never letting the Orange and White closer than two the rest of the way. With the scoreboard reading 19-17 following a blast by Powe, Kentucky effectively ended the set by scoring on four consecutive plays. Fowler and freshman Kayla Jeter kept the UT hopes alive with a kill each, but a Lady Vol service error dashed those dreams and gave the Wildcats the early advantage.
A late run in the second frame by the Orange and White gave it a 25-20 victory and tied the score at one set each entering the intermission. Despite battling hard, UT found itself trailing throughout most of the second frame. After a kill by UK's Lauren Rapp put her team up by a pair of scores at 17-15, Tennessee finally saw its efforts rewarded as a Wildcat serve found the net.
That error would be the first of four Kentucky miscues over the next eight plays, as the Big Orange rattled off eight straight scores behind the strength of freshman Kelsey Mahoney's strong serving. Tennessee also got an ace from Mahoney, two kills by Flynn and a block by Flynn and Hilby during that stretch. Now leading at 23-17, UT shook off a short-lived Wildcat comeback attempt before Flynn pounded out a pair of kills to close out the frame.
Although the Orange and White raced out to a 5-2 advantage in the third set, Kentucky rallied quickly and finished strong to take the frame, 25-17. A UK attack error started the scoring and UT went up by two after Mahoney's second ace of the night. Following a kill by Queen Nzenwa, Tennessee continued to push forward, getting back-to-back kills from Fowler. A kill by Kentucky setter Sarah Rumely was next but a Wildcat service error followed to give the Big Orange an early three-point lead.
Unfortunately for fans of the Orange and White, the Kentucky response was quick and firm, as the Wildcats went on an 11-2 run that featured a pair of three-point rallies and a six-score spree to take double up UT at 14-7. The Lady Vols were not ready to give up quite yet, however. Marshall got things going for Tennessee with a blast from the outside that was followed shortly thereafter by two more kills by Fowler.
Although UK blocked the next attack, Tennessee took advantage of a pair of unforced errors by Kentucky, sandwiched around another kill by Fowler, to cut its deficit to just two scores at 16-14. It was unable to sustain that success though and the Wildcats stole back the momentum with a kill by Nzenwa and consecutive blocks by Nzenwa and Rumely and Nzenwa and Mendoza. After Patrick's second timeout, the two teams traded the next five scores before Kentucky finished off the frame with four consecutive points.
Another late rally proved to be the downfall for Tennessee which dropped the fourth set, 25-19, and the match three games to one. The two teams engaged in a hard-fought battle early on before reaching a 13-13 deadlock. After kills by Flynn and Marshall gave the Big Orange the advantage, the Wildcats came roaring back, scoring six consecutive times to take an insurmountable 19-15 lead.
Although Powe smashed home a kill to end the streak, UK continued to apply the pressure, scoring on four of the next five plays to increase its advantage to six at 23-17. A kill by senior Milan Clarke and a block by Fowler and Hilby proved to be too little, too late for the Orange and White as Kentucky took the final two scores to claim the match.
The Lady Vols will attempt to return to return to the win column on Friday night when Auburn makes the trip to Rocky Top. First serve for that contest is set for 7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena. Fans are encouraged to wear pink as Tennessee will be participating in the Susan G. Komen "Dig for the Cure" event. Each defensive dig by a Lady Vol in the match will raise money in support of breast cancer research, benefiting the Knoxville affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.