Janelle Hester led the way with 24 kills.
Oct. 20, 2002
The University of Tennessee Lady Vol volleyball team battled their way to a 3-1 (25-30, 30-28, 30-27, 31-29) over Mississippi State in Starkville on Sunday. The win evened UT's SEC mark on the year at 4-4 and upped their overall record to 15-6. The Bulldogs fell to 10-12 and 1-7 in conference play with the loss.
The first game was tight from the beginning as neither squad could attain more than a two-point lead over the first 30 points. The Bulldogs managed to take a three-point advantage, 17-14, after a hitting error by Tennessee. The Lady Vols came back and tied the game, 19-19, after a kill by senior outside hitter Janelle Hester, but MSU scored three unanswered to regain the lead, 22-19. The Big Orange responded by taking four of the next points to deadlock the match once again, 23-23, thanks to several erratic hits by the Bulldogs. After a timeout by MSU Head Coach Brenda Bowlin, Mississippi State came out firing and took out Tennessee in game one, 30-25.
Tennessee regrouped in the second frame and took a four-point lead, 10-6, behind a cluster of kills from Hester and sophomore middle blocker Michelle Piantadosi. The Bulldogs refused to go away, slowly cutting into the Orange and White's lead before tying the match, 17-17. After splitting the next four, Mississippi State went on a scoring tear of six straight for a commanding 25-19 advantage.
Starring at the possibility of falling behind 2-0 to MSU, the Lady Vols hunkered down and turned things up a notch. The next six points flip flopped back and forth before Hester recorded her 10th kill of the afternoon, giving freshman setter Julie Knytych the serve with Tennessee trailing, 28-23. After a couple of kills by Hester and sophomore right side hitter Whitney Gifford, and an ace, UT only trailed 28-26. After MSU junior middle blocker Hilary Chambers dumped two attacks in the net, the frame was knotted, 28-28. Gifford and freshman outside hitter Jasmine Fullove combined for a block to give the Lady Vols game point. The miraculous Tennessee comeback was completed after Bulldog freshman outside hitter Rachel Cooper hit a ball into the net, giving UT the 30-28 win.
After falling behind 14-8 in game three, the Lady Vols began another come-from-behind charge. Tennessee eventually took the lead, 16-15, after Knytych and freshman middle blocker Kristen Andre stuffed a Bulldog attacker. The Big Orange gained a four-point lead, 22-18, after Piantadosi delivered a punishing kill that forced the Bulldogs' skipper to call a timeout. UT held on to win the third game, 30-27, to take a 2-1 lead over MSU. Hester led the Lady Vols' attack during the third frame with seven kills, while Piantadosi chipped in four.
The Lady Vols continued their theme of creating a deficit for themselves when Mississippi State took an 8-0 advantage. The Bulldog advantage grew to double digits on three occasions thereafter, but Tennessee would once again fight their way back into the game, cutting the lead to four, 22-18, after another kill by Hester. The Bulldogs went on to build a six-point lead, 26-20, but UT scored the next four behind the powerful jump serving of senior outside hitter Kelli Scott to set the score at 26-24. Consecutive kills by Hester allowed the Lady Vols to tie the game up, 28-28. A service error by Tennessee gave the Bulldogs game point, but Hester knotted things up again with her 24th kill of the match. After Gifford and Hester combined for a block on MSU, the Lady Vols won the next point off an attack error by Cooper. Tennessee's 31-29 win marked the first time this season that the Lady Vols have won a game that was decided by more than 30 points.
Hester's 24 kills marked her fourth straight match with a least 20 kills and her fifth in the Lady Vols' last six contests. Piantadosi finished the afternoon with 13 kills and six digs, while Gifford recorded five kills, 12 digs and a season-high seven blocks. Knytych finished the match with four kills, 54 assists and 11 digs for her team-leading ninth double-double of the year. Freshman libero Morgan Miltner also tossed in 17 digs for UT as well.
"Janelle led the way for us once again on offense and defense," said UT Head Coach Rob Patrick. "Her blocks at the end helped us stave off the Bulldog's comeback. Unforced errors continue to plague us, but luckily these are things we can control and improve on."
The Lady Vols return home next weekend for a couple of SEC tilts with Western Division foes Alabama and Auburn. Tennessee faces the Crimson Tide on Friday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m., and then takes on the Tigers on Sunday, Oct. 27, at 2 p.m. in Stokely Athletics Center.