Oct. 20, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The 21st-ranked University of Tennessee volleyball team dropped a three-set decision to No. 1 Florida, 25-20, 25-23, 25-20, in front of a national television audience on ESPNU and 1,659 fans on Wednesday night at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.
With the loss, the Lady Volunteers fall to 15-5 overall and 7-4 in Southeastern Conference action, while the top-ranked Gators improve to 17-1, including a perfect 10-0 record in league play.
When you get an opportunity against a really good team like Florida that is ranked No. 1 in the nation you have to take advantage of it," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "We just continually shot ourselves in the foot. We had some opportunities to take care of some balls whether it was digging or serving or taking some swings in transition and we just didn't do that.
"We have the ability to do the things we needed to do, but we just didn't perform for whatever reason. I was really comfortable with our team coming into the match and expected to give Florida a good fight which I thought we did even though the final score might not indicate that. A lot of the match was close, but there were some strings of points where we just didn't compete at the level we needed to in order to stay even with Florida for longer periods of time."
Senior Nikki Fowler continued her strong play of late with yet another double-double, her 11th of the season and 49th of her career. The 6-2 right side hit at a stellar .400 clip with a match-high 15 kills to go along with 10 digs. Fellow classmate Leah Hinkey added six kills of her own on 10 errorless swings to post a remarkable .600 hitting percentage.
Other offensive standouts included junior Kayla Jeter who finished second on the team with seven kills and freshman Carly Sahagian who had six putaways. Defensively, freshman Kelsey Robinson topped the squad with 12 digs, while sophomore DeeDee Harrison had a match-high five blocks.
Despite out-hitting, out-digging and out-blocking the Gators, Tennessee dropped the opening frame, 25-20. The Big Orange hit .333 compared to Florida's .316, led by five kills from Fowler and three each by Hinkey and Sahagian.
Although UF raced out to a quick 6-3 advantage, the Lady Vols used a kill by Sahagian, a big block by sophomore Leslie Cikra and Hinkey and a right-side putaway from Cikra to tie the score. A service error would end the run, however, and Florida would hold onto the lead the rest of the way.
UT was able to cut its deficit to a single point on a couple of occasions, but never could get over the hump. The first came at the 17-16 mark after a three-point run by the Lady Vols. Harrison got the tear started with a huge solo block on a swing by Callie Rivers and Fowler followed with back-to-back kills from the right side.
After a Florida timeout and a kill by Kristy Jaeckel, Fowler moved Tennessee within a single score for the final time with a cross-court blast from the outside to the back-right corner of the court. From that point on, the Gators claimed seven of the last 10 scores to account for the final tally.
The second set was extremely tightly contested with 13 tie scores and three lead changes, but a late Lady Vol rally was not quite enough as they fell, 25-23, to fall behind two sets to none at the intermission. It was all Fowler for UT as she pounded out six kills on just seven swings and had a team-high four digs in the frame.
After a 3-0 UT run and a pair of Florida points put the tally on the scoreboard at 10-9 in favor of the Gators, the two teams proceeded to trade the next 15 scores to bring the frame to a 17-17 deadlock.
Florida broke through first, notching three straight points on a trio of kills, but a Tennessee timeout netted a 3-1 run that tied things back up. Following the short break in play, Hinkey slammed home an over pass to give the ball back to the Big Orange. Although the Gators got a kill on the next play, UT responded with three consecutive scores on putaways by Cikra and Fowler and a service ace from Hinkey to knot the tally back up at 21-21.
Unfortunately for fans of the Orange and White though, that would be as they would get as the Gators would finish off the frame by winning four of the final six points to claim the 25-23 victory.
Despite grabbing an early lead and attempting a late-set comeback, Tennessee couldn't get past the hard-hitting Gators who finished off the sweep with a 25-20 triumph in the third frame. Once again, Fowler led the way offensively with four kills, while freshman Kylann Scheidt added a team-high six digs and handed out six helpers in the frame.
UT utilized a kill by Hinkey from the right side and a pair of huge blocks to take hold of a quick 8-4 lead right out of the gate. A timeout by Florida, however, effectively halted all momentum the Lady Vols had been able to generate.
The Gators came out of the break on fire and scored 16 of the next 21 points to take a commanding 20-13 advantage. Tennessee had one final comeback attempt in it, however, going on a four-point tear bookended by kills from Jeter to move within three at the 21-18 mark. That would be all it could muster though as Florida finished off the match with a 4-2 run.
The Big Orange will have a few days off before next hitting the hardwood when it travels to Columbia, S.C., for a 1:30 p.m. showdown against South Carolina on Sunday, Oct. 24. Tennessee will then return home for a season-long three-match homestand next week as it hosts Louisville on Wednesday, Auburn on Friday and Georgia on Sunday.
For the most up-to-date information on the Lady Vol volleyball team, make sure you follow @UTLadyVols and @UTVolleyball on Twitter.