Oct. 17, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
Post-Match Interview with Rob Patrick
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The 24th-ranked University of Tennessee volleyball team finished off the first half of its conference schedule with its second sweep of the weekend, downing Alabama, 25-17, 25-21, 26-24, in front of 1,103 Orange and White faithful, the ninth-largest crowd in school history, on Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Lady Volunteers picked up their seventh Southeastern Conference victory as they completed the first of two trips around the league. UT also improved to 15-4 on the season, while the Crimson Tide fell to 9-10 overall and 1-8 in conference play.
"We have a big match coming up next Wednesday at Florida, so I was happy to see our team really focus and take care of business this weekend against Mississippi State and Alabama," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "We didn't take either of them for granted and really did a good job of taking care of the things we needed to do in order to be successful.
"One of the things I thought we did a good job of today was using our serving to get them out of their comfort zone offensively. Alabama has three very good hitters and we were able to limit their effectiveness a little with some well-placed serves.
"We have a big opportunity in front of us now. It's not very often that you get to play the No. 1 team in the country so we are very excited. We don't have anything to lose, so we are going to lay it all out on the line, play hard, play aggressively and hopefully come back with a win."
For the 48th time in her career and 10th time this season, senior Nikki Fowler recorded a double-double. The Dallas, Texas, native led the Lady Vol charge with a team-high 11 kills on .450 hitting as she had just two miscues on 20 swings. Fowler also had 11 digs, an assist and a block in the contest.
Fowler was just one of five Lady Vols to record at least seven kills against the Tide, as they continued to spread the wealth offensively. Sophomore Leslie Cikra finished second on the team with nine putaways, while hitting at a solid .412 clip and blocking three Alabama attacks. Just behind her was fellow classmate DeeDee Harrison with a trio of blocks to go along with eight kills and a .400 attack average.
Rounding out the quintet of offensive stars were senior Leah Hinkey and junior Kayla Jeter with seven kills each. Hinkey took 14 errorless swings as she accumulated a .500 hitting percentage, in addition to tallying a match-high five blocks, three aces and a pair of digs. Jeter added four blocks and six digs to the winning effort as well.
Other individual standouts on the stat sheet included freshman Kelsey Robinson who scooped up a match-best 16 digs and setters Kelsey Mahoney and Emily Steinbeck who dished out 22 and 18 assists, respectively, to lead the Big Orange to a .286 team hitting percentage.
As a team, UT became the first squad all season to hold Alabama without an ace, as Robinson, Jeter and Fowler handled all 56 serves that came their way. On the other side of the net, the Big Orange had four aces and topped the Tide in virtually every statistical category, accumulating six more kills (45-39), a higher hitting percentage (.286-.204), six more assist (43-37), nine more digs (47-38) and five more blocks (17-12).
The opening frame was a slugfest, but Tennessee was able to prevail by the score of 25-17 thanks to the fact that it out-hit Alabama, .385 to .320, and had six different players record at least one kill in the frame. Jeter led the way with four hammers on nine total swings while Fowler took care of her defensive responsibilities with four digs.
With the scoreboard reading an 8-8 tie early in the match, the Big Orange took full control of the frame with a 7-2 spurt that put it up by five at 15-10. During that tear, UT got a pair of kills from freshman Carly Sahagian, as well as putaways from Harrison, Fowler and Jeter, and took advantage of two Alabama miscues.
Just moments later, the Lady Vols embarked on a 7-1 run that effectively put the set out of Alabama's reach. Hinkey got things started with a blast down the center of the court and Steinbeck followed with an ace that landed just inside the back line.
Following Alabama's second timeout of the set, Jeter kept the tear going with a shot that landed in the back-right corner for a kill. Although the Crimson Tide would get one of the points back on a blast by Kayla Fitterer, a service error gave the ball right back to the Orange and White. UT took full advantage of the slip-up and rattled off three more scores on kills by Jeter and Cikra and an ace by Hinkey to go ahead by a commanding nine-point margin at 22-13.
Alabama would answer with three straight points of its own, but it was too little, too late as another kill by Cikra and a Tide attack error gave the Big Orange eight chances to win the set. It would only take two as it turned to the hot hand once again and let Cikra finish off the frame with a hammer from the right side.
The second stanza was more of a back-and-forth battle with 13 tie scores and a pair of lead changes, but Tennessee emerged victorious once again, scoring five of the final six points in the frame to claim a 25-21 triumph and two-set advantage heading into the intermission. After recording just one kill in the first frame, Fowler took over offensively, pounding out six of the Orange and White's 17 putaways.
Both teams fought hard throughout the frame only to find themselves deadlocked at the 20-20 mark. At that point, however, the Big Orange decided it had seen enough. Hinkey triggered the set-winning run with her fifth kill of the afternoon.
Alabama's Alyssa Meuth followed with an attack into the net and Tide Head Coach Judy Green was forced to burn a timeout. Although the short break in play would net her team a point on the next play, it proved to be its last as Cikra sandwiched a pair of kills around another Alabama attack error to bring the frame to an end.
Despite giving up a four-point lead and needing to go past regulation, the Lady Vols were able to complete their second sweep of the weekend and 10th of the season with a 26-24 victory. It was UT's blocking that made the difference as it recorded 15 of its 17 putbacks in the third set alone, including all five of Hinkey's blocks.
Tennessee wasted little time jumping out in front of the Tide, taking a quick 13-9 lead. A timeout by Green stopped the Lady Vol momentum in its tracks though and allowed her team to inch its way back into contention. It didn't happen immediately, but Alabama slowed moved closer and closer until a 5-1 run suddenly tied the score at 19-all.
Back-to-back kills from Fowler put UT back on top by two, but another Green timeout resulted in a kill by Meuth to return the deficit to just a single score. Although Hinkey followed with a blast down the right side, Alabama brought the frame back to a deadlock at 22-22 by scoring consecutive points.
Fortunately, a service error moved the Big Orange back into the lead, but Tide outside hitter Calli Johnson responded with her fifth kill of the day to bring things back to a stalemate at 23-23. Cikra then came up with a huge solo block to give Tennessee its first chance at match point, but Alabama forced an attack error to thwart that attempt. That ended up being the Crimson Tide's final point of the contest, however, as Fowler brought the match to a close with consecutive kills.
The Lady Vols will next be in action when they travel to Gainesville, Fla., for a nationally-televised showdown against No. 1 Florida at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 20. The match will be broadcast live on ESPNU with Elizabeth Moreau and Beth Mowins on the call.
It will be just the sixth time in school history that Tennessee has taken on the top-ranked team in the land and the first since it fell to No. 1 Nebraska in its 2007 season opener at the AVCA Showcase in Omaha, Neb.