Oct. 9, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
Post-Match Interview with Rob Patrick
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Down and seemingly out on numerous occasions on Friday evening, the No. 22 University of Tennessee volleyball team dug down deep and found just enough to escape with a come-from-behind, 22-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20, 17-15, victory on the road at Arkansas in what turned out to be a barnburner at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Lady Volunteers not only fought their way back from down two sets, but shook off a pair of match points to claim the win, as they improved to 13-3 overall and 5-2 in Southeastern Conference action. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, fall to an even 9-9 and 3-4 in league play. Friday's victory marked the first time UT returned from a two-set deficit to win a match since it last accomplished the feat at Louisville on Sept. 30, 2009.
"We took Arkansas' best shot and that woke us up," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "Arkansas was sharp at the beginning of the match and we weren't. I think we thought we were going to play our way into the match a little bit and that's going to happen some times when you have a young team like we do. After a while, we finally came out and started playing with a little bit of urgency. In the end, I was proud of the strong finish.
"Arkansas made us play the way we did. I don't want to take anything away from them. They did a good job with controlling the ball and did some really good things both offensively and defensively. For us to take that shot and come back means a lot for our team, especially as we move forward from here."
Senior Nikki Fowler posted her most dominating performance off the year, pounding out a season-high 24 kills on an amazing .440 hitting with only two errors in 50 swings. The Dallas, Texas, native also had 11 digs and three blocks as she recorded her eighth double-double of the season and 46th of her career.
With her effort on Friday, Fowler increased her career kill total to 1,471, moving her into sixth place all-time at Tennessee as passed Kristy Dobson who had 1,454 putaways from 1988-91.
"Nikki does so much for us and we wouldn't have even been in this match if she didn't play as well as she did," Patrick said. "She did an exceptional job passing, offensively and defensively. She was able to keep us in the game when we weren't playing as well as we needed to be."
The reigning Sports Imports/American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Week Kayla Jeter also had a strong contest offensively, tallying 18 kills with a .316 hitting percentage, in addition to notching nine digs, an ace and three blocks. Senior Leah Hinkey was the third Lady Vol to reach double-digits in kills with 11, while sophomores DeeDee Harrison and Leslie Cikra each had nine.
Pacing the UT attack was a trio of setters in senior Emily Steinbeck, junior Kelsey Mahoney and freshman Kylann Scheidt as they combined for 71 assists on UT's 76 kills. Steinbeck led the way with 30 helpers, while Mahoney tallied 19 through the final three sets after Scheidt got things started with 17 in the first two frames.
"I was really excited about how Kelsey Mahoney came in and really sparked us. She did a fine job coming off the bench and really took control of the three rotations she was playing, not only setting the ball, but playing strong defense as well. That really helped us to finish strong."
Defensively, freshman Kelsey Robinson was outstanding in her first career start at the libero position, scooping up 27 Arkansas attacks. That marks the most digs by a Tennessee player this season. The previous high was 16 by Robinson in the season opener against Xavier on Aug. 27.
"Kelsey is someone who is just a great volleyball player and has a great volleyball IQ. She's 6-2 and really covers a lot of ground in the back row. The one thing we have been in need of defensively was a couple more digs. We don't win this match if she doesn't get 27 digs. She did a wonderful job of stepping into a position she hasn't played before and really doing a nice job of consistently digging balls up to allow us to continue rallies."
After coming back from down two sets to send the match to a fifth-and-deciding frame, Tennessee still needed extra time to put away the Razorbacks. The final stanza was the very definition of a back-and-forth affair as it featured 14 tie scores and five lead changes before the Lady Vols squeaked out a 17-15 triumph.
After falling behind by one at the changeover, the Big Orange found itself trailing 11-9 just moments later. Jeter got the ball back on UT's side of the net, however with a blast to the back-left corner of the court before an attack by Arkansas' Kelli Stipanovich sailed long to tie the set back up at 11-all.
Although the Razorbacks would regain the lead on a kill by Jasmine Norton from the back row, Tennessee took it right back with back-to-back putaways by Hinkey and Harrison. Serving for a chance to earn an opportunity at match point, Arkansas stole the momentum thanks to a pair of UT miscues.
With the outcome of the match on the line, the Orange and White got a break when Stipanovich served it into the net to tie the score at 14-14. Arkansas quickly got another opportunity to win the contest, however, when Norton came up with another big kill.
Looking defeat square in the face, Tennessee didn't blink as it rattled off three straight scores to claim the come-from-behind victory. Fowler triggered the run with a shot down the left-side line before she teamed up with Harrison to stuff an attack by Norton. Fowler then finished off the contest with her 24th and final putaway of the evening.
Well before the fifth-set heroics, the match opened with the Lady Vols dropping the initial frame of the contest, 25-22, despite out-hitting the Razorbacks, .286 to .167. UT's middle blockers served as the primary point of attack as Harrison and Hinkey each tallied four kills in the frame. Robinson, meanwhile, topped the squad with five digs.
Arkansas quickly jumped ahead 8-4 before consecutive kills by Harrison and a Razorback attack error brought Tennessee back within one. UT would actually tie the score just three plays later as Fowler came through with a blast from the outside before teaming up with Harrison on a block to knot things up at 10-10. Arkansas would immediately regain the lead with three straight points of its own, however, to go back ahead, 13-10.
Just seconds later, a kill by Hinkey and back-to-back Razorback miscues returned the frame to a deadlock at 14-14. That would be as close as the Big Orange would get though. The two teams traded the next four points before Arkansas proceeded to go on an 8-3 run that effectively ended the set. UT was able to fight off a trio of set points with a block by Hinkey and Jeter and a pair of Arkansas attack errors, but a kill by Amanda Anderson finally brought things to a close at 25-22.
The Razorbacks continued to pad their lead by claiming the second set, 25-23. After not taking a swing in the opening frame, Jeter got on track offensively, smashing out six kills on 15 attempts, while Fowler was close on her heels with five putaways. Once again, Robinson led the way in the back row, scooping up eight Razorback attacks.
Tennessee actually led fairly late in the frame as a 5-2 run, featuring kills from Cikra and freshman Carly Sahagian and a solo block by Harrison put it up by two at the 18-16 mark. That lead was short-lived, however, as Arkansas responded with back-to-back scores to tie things up again.
Although the Big Orange would hold slim leads at 19-18 and 20-19, the Razorbacks took control of the set and score four of the next five points to go ahead 23-21. Jeter and Fowler would have none of it though, notching consecutive kills from the left and right sides of the net, respectively, to return the frame to a deadlock. It would not be enough, however, as kills by Anderson and Norton allowed Arkansas to edge UT, 25-23, and take a 2-0 lead at the intermission.
Trailing late in the third set and facing the very real possibility of a sweep, the Big Orange scored eight of the final nine points to stay alive with a 25-20 victory. Yet again, the Lady Vols rode the right arm of Fowler as she recorded six of the team's 13 kills in the frame, while Robinson added four more digs to her total. It also helped that Tennessee was able to hold the Razorbacks to a .086 hitting percentage, forcing them into nine attack errors.
After reaching a 7-7 tie, the two teams proceeded to engage in a slugfest, trading shots back-and-forth for the rest of the set. UT struck the first block with a three-point run, opened and closed by kills from Fowler, that put it up 10-7 and led to Arkansas' first timeout of the frame.
Following the short break, the Razorbacks took their best shot with five straight scores to go up 12-10, forcing Patrick to call a timeout of his own in order to steady his squad. The tactic worked to perfection as the Orange and White responded with an identical five-score spree, in which Fowler put down a pair of kills and Sahagian added another, to take a 15-12 advantage.
After Arkansas' second and final timeout of the set, the Razorbacks connected with a huge swing as they tallied seven of the next nine points to go ahead by two at 19-17. Once again, a timeout by Patrick was all Tennessee would need to stop the bleeding, however, as the Lady Vols responded to the break in play by closing out the set on an 8-1 tear.
Jeter got things started with consecutive kills and a solo block to put UT ahead 20-19. Following a sharp, cross-court smash by Cikra, Arkansas would score what would be its final point of the set on a kill by Norton. She would hit the next ball out of bounds, however, and Jeter followed with a service ace that seemed to take the wind out of the Razorbacks' sails. An attack error by Stipanovich and an absolute blast by Fowler ended the set with the Orange and White on top, 25-20.
Once again needing to win the set or go home with a loss, Tennessee put forth its most impressive effort in the fourth frame, out-hitting Arkansas, .359 to .184, and never trailing in another 25-20 triumph. Jeter was nearly unstoppable in the stanza, pounding out eight kills on 11 swings, while Fowler added four and Robinson tallied seven more digs.
The Lady Vols took an early 5-2 lead and never looked back as it kept the Razorbacks at least two points away the remainder of the frame. After Arkansas cut into the UT lead and put the score at 13-11, Tennessee scored three straight to keep its lead intact. Hinkey and Cikra got the ball rolling by sending back a Stipanovich swing. Jeter then followed with a kill on an off-speed attack over the left-side block before a rollshot by Stipanovich sailed wide of the antenna for an error.
The knockout blow came with Tennessee holding a 20-17 lead on the scoreboard. Once again, it turned to Jeter for a kill and she delivered, sending a laser down the left-side line that ricocheted off the defender and over press row. Fowler followed suit, notching a kill on a rollshot from the back row, before Jeter recorded another putaway for good measure. Just five plays later, a Cikra kill closed out the set, setting up the dramatic finish to the match.
The Big Orange will return to the court this Sunday when it travels to Baton Rouge, La., for a top-25 showdown against No. 15 LSU. The match will start at 2:30 p.m. ET at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.