Oct. 12, 2008
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - In front of a rowdy crowd of 2,470 at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (10-8, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) was unable to overcome a talented Florida squad (14-1, 8-0 SEC), falling to the ninth-ranked Gators in three sets, 25-22, 25-12, 25-22, Sunday afternoon in Gainesville, Fla.
"We played well enough to win the first and third sets, but we need to learn how to win big points and close out matches," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "We'll have to continue to work on that in practice by simulating those types of points if we want to get better in that area."
Sophomore Nikki Fowler continued to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load for the Lady Vols, pounding out a match-high 13 kills in the contest. Providing some relief was junior Farren Powe who hit at a solid .462 clip with eight kills and just two errors in 13 swings. Defensively, freshman Alyssa Hilby finished just one block off her career high with six putbacks in the contest, while junior libero Chloe Goldman tallied 11 digs. Fellow classmate Kylie Marshall also reached double-digits in the digs category with 10 of her own.
"A couple of bright spots are that we are getting Farren more involved in our offense and she is producing some solid numbers," Patrick said. "This match is also an example of how Kelsey (Mahoney) has become a steadying force on the court despite how young she is and Nikki just continues to step up and lead our team with her steady play in big matches. We have a nice base to build on, but we need to continue to work on finding ways to get one or two additional pieces to help those players out. Once we are able to do that, we will be able to start winning matches more consistently."
Despite besting Florida in virtually every statistical category, including outhitting the Gators, .296 to .205, in the opening frame, Tennessee was unable to come away with the victory, falling by a slim three-point margin, 25-22. Powe and Fowler paced the Big Orange offense with five kills each, while senior Milan Clarke tallied three blocks in the game.
The Lady Vols struck the first blow, jumping out to a quick 9-6 lead behind the strength of four kills by Powe. With the scoreboard reading 5-2 in favor of the Gators, Powe got the UT offense rolling with a blast straight down into the middle of the court. Following a Florida attack error, Powe made it three consecutive scores for the Big Orange with another kill, pounding one away off an over pass.
A service error ended the streak, but Tennessee got right back on track with yet another Powe kill that was immediately followed by a pair of blocks as Clarke and Hilby joined forces to stuff an attack by Florida freshman Kelly Murphy before Marshall joined the duo to send back a Kristy Jaeckel swing on the next play. Just seconds later, Fowler collected a kill from the back row to put UT up by three at 9-6 and prompt UF Head Coach Mary Wise to burn her first timeout.
Unfortunately for fans of the Orange and White, the tactic worked as the Gators then proceeded to rattle off scores on eight of the next nine plays with a pair of four-point runs separated by a single UT score. The Lady Vols did not give up, however, fighting their way back to within just one point with Powe and SENIOR Mindy Flynn capping a three-score spree with a sharp block to make it 17-16.
After the two squads then traded the next three points, Tennessee was able to tie the set up at 19-all with Hilby and Clarke sending back a right-side attack by Kelsey Bowers. The Gators responded with a solo block by Callie Rivers but Jaeckel's serve on the next play found the net and kept the score deadlocked at 20-20. At that point, Florida made a strong effort to end the set, taking advantage of a pair of Lady Vol errors and getting a kill by Lauren Bledsoe to go up 23-20.
The Orange and White had one last rally left, however, with Fowler blasting a kill to the back-left corner of the court and recording a solo stuff to move her team within one at 23-22. That would be as close as UT would get though, as the Gators closed out the frame with back-to-back scores to take the early one-set lead.
Despite taking an early lead, UT had no answer for the hard-hitting Florida attack in the second set, eventually falling 25-12. After Tennessee's initial run at the beginning of the frame, it was all Gators, who recorded five runs of three or more scores to earn a commanding two-set advantage as the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms for the intermission. Fowler was the lone bright spot for the Orange and White, as she tallied a team-high four kills and three digs during the set.
Tennessee came out of the gates on fire in the third frame, racing out to a 5-1 advantage. The Lady Vols opened the frame with a trio of scores, including a pair of blocks and a kill by Fowler that landed wide off the right-side block. After Florida got on the board with a back-row blast by Colleen Ward, UT added two more scores with another putaway by Fowler and an error by the Gators.
The Gators would not go away quite that easy though, answering shortly thereafter with four consecutive scores of their own to take an 8-7 lead. A hard-fought battle would ensue with neither squad able to go up by more than two points until Tennessee put together a three-score spurt, finished off by a kill by Marshall off an over pass, that gave it an 18-16 advantage.
Florida continued to apply the pressure, clawing its way back to a 19-19 tie with points on three of the next four plays. The score remained tied until Florida finished off the match with four consecutive points to earn the 25-22 victory and three-set sweep.
UT will next be in action when it closes out the non-conference portion of its schedule by making the short drive to Johnson City, Tenn., to take on East Tennessee State at 7 p.m. on Tues., Oct. 14. The Lady Vols will then return home for a pair of SEC contests as it will welcome Ole Miss and Arkansas to Rocky Top at 7 p.m. on Oct. 17 and 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 19, respectively.