Oct. 17, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Playing in front of its biggest home crowd of the season, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (12-8, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) put forth one of its best efforts of the year, sweeping Ole Miss (8-9, 4-4 SEC) in three sets, 25-21, 25-14, 25-15, Friday night at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. A career-high .480 hitting percentage by sophomore Nikki Fowler and freshman Kelsey Mahoney's third career double-double helped propel the Lady Vols to victory.
"The energy in the gym tonight was fantastic and really helped carry our team through some great runs during each set," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "It was great to see so many students. I know it meant a tremendous amount to our players to see that kind of support and made them proud to represent the University of Tennessee.
"We have been putting a huge emphasis on running our offensive system more cleanly and I thought that we took a huge step forward in doing just that with our match today," Patrick said. "Our players are doing a great job of keeping their errors to a minimum, while still taking big swings and going for kills. I was very proud of their effort and attention to detail."
Watch the Full Match Replay
A native of Dallas, Texas, Fowler smashed out a match-high 14 kills and had just a pair of errors in 25 total attacks. She also collected four digs, three blocks and an ace in the contest. Senior Mindy Flynn, meanwhile, was not far behind, recording a sensational .476 hitting percentage of her own, with 10 kills on 21 swings without a single error. As a team, the Lady Vols outhit the Rebels, .374 to .080. That attack average stands as UT's highest mark during SEC play this season and second-best average all year behind only Tuesday night's .420 performance at East Tennessee State.
"I hope we don't start to take Nikki Fowler for granted," Patrick said. "I'm not only talking about her offensive numbers and hitting efficiency, but also the little things that don't show up in the stat sheet like her passing consistency and how well she sets up the block. She played tremendous again today despite the fact that our opponents continue to try and find new ways to stop her on every point."
Also standing out on the stat sheet for the Big Orange were freshman Alyssa Hilby, junior Chloe Goldman and Mahoney. A product of Lakewood, Wash., Hilby paced the UT blocking effort with five putbacks, in addition to hitting at a .500 clip with five kills and no errors on 10 swings, while Goldman led all performers with 14 digs from the libero position. Mahoney, meanwhile, reached double-digits in both assists and digs with 21 and 10, respectively, to tally the third double-double of her young career.
"Our setting continues to improve daily and our hitting efficiency is a direct result of the hard work that both Kelsey and Mischa (Hanakova) have been putting in all season," Patrick said. "I'm very proud of how they ran the offense and the fact that they were able to consistently find the right hitters in transition all night.
"One of the things that they were able to take advantage of tonight was Mindy being a hot hitter," Patrick said. "Our setters were able to consistently get her the ball in positions where she could get kills. She has been in a bit of a rough stretch as of late, and I could not be happier to see her break out of it with such a terrific performance tonight."
With 703 Orange and White faithful cheering them on, including over 300 students, the Lady Vols, raced out to an early lead, claiming the opening set of the match, 25-21, behind the strength of Flynn, Hilby and Fowler who each pounded out three kills in the frame. Hilby and Fowler also had a pair of blocks each, while Goldman dug up five Rebel attacks.
Despite the final outcome, the going was a little rough early on, with Ole Miss taking a quick 10-4 advantage. Leading at 3-2, the Rebels scored points on four consecutive plays before Flynn finally stopped the streak with a kill. Following a solo block by junior Kylie Marshall, however, Ole Miss got right back on the board with a three-score spree, featuring blasts by Miranda Kitts and Regina Thomas and a UT attack error.
A service error by Kitts ended the run before junior Farren Powe served her sixth ace of the season and Marshall followed with a kill of an assist from fellow classmate Michaela Hanakova to move UT with three at 10-7. Although an unforced error gave Ole Miss the next point, the Orange and White kept rolling with a kill by Hilby and a block by Fowler and Hilby on back-to-back plays.
Once again, the Rebels were able to briefly fend off the attack with a kill by Emily Jones, but the Big Orange continued to apply the pressure, taking its first lead of the contest at 15-13 with a pair of three-point runs separated by just a single Ole Miss score. The second spree, highlighted by blasts from Fowler and Flynn, prompted UM Head Coach Joe Getzin to burn his first timeout of the match to allow his troops a chance to steady themselves.
Although the short break was enough to put a slight hold on the UT momentum, it was unable to do away with it completely, as the Orange and White continued to hold onto the lead until Getzin called his second timeout at the 22-20 mark, following a Rebel service error. This time, the Big Orange came out on fire, getting an ace from Goldman and a UM attack error to close out a three-point run that put Tennessee at set point at 24-20. Following a Rebel score, Fowler finished off the frame with her third kill of the set.
The second set was all Lady Vols as they pounded their way out to an early lead and never looked back en route to a 25-14 triumph that gave them a two-set advantage going into the intermission. Tennessee continued to improve offensively, recording just a single attack error while hitting at a .414 clip (13-1-29) and holding the Rebels to a .054 attack average in the frame.
The Big Orange was able to string together long periods of success in the second set, notching four streaks of three or more points while holding Ole Miss to only one such run. The first spree started just three points into the frame, as a Marshall kill sparked a trio of scores that put UT up 4-1. The Rebels remained close for a few more minutes before Flynn and senior Milan Clarke broke it open with back-to-back putaways to open a four-point run that put the Orange and White up 10-4.
Ole Miss would continue to fight, moving to within four at 11-7, but Tennessee had an answer for everything the Rebels threw out, scoring on four consecutive plays once again, including a Marshall ace and a sharp solo block by Hilby, to more than double up UM at 15-7. From that point on, the momentum remained on UT's side of the net for a majority of the remainder of the set, until a blast by Clarke marked the end of the frame.
In what was nearly a carbon-copy of the second set, the Big Orange took control of the third frame early on and never let go before emerging victorious 25-15. Although the UT win was never really in doubt, the key turning point was an eight-score spree in the middle of the frame that effectively ended the match.
Leading by three at 12-9, Tennessee was able to regain control of the ball with yet another kill by Fowler. Over the course of the next four plays, four different Lady Vols, including Marshall, Flynn, Hilby and Fowler once again, were able to get kills to extend the UT lead to eight at 17-9. After back-to-back UM attack errors, Mahoney served her team-high 19th ace of the 2008 campaign to make it a commanding 20-9 advantage.
Despite the huge deficit, the Rebels refused to go away easily, scrapping out a four-point run of their own to move within seven at 20-13. It would prove too little, too late, for Ole Miss, however, as the Big Orange responded with scores on five of the final seven plays of the match, capped off by Fowler's 14th kill, to claim the three-set sweep.
UT will wrap up the first half of its SEC schedule this Sunday when it hosts Arkansas at 1:30 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena. Following that contest, the Big Orange will hit the road for a pair of league matches as it will travel to Alabama and Mississippi State next weekend.