Oct. 31, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - With one of its best efforts of the season, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (16-8, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) was able to snap Georgia's conference-best, six-match winning streak in dominating fashion, taking out the Bulldogs (14-10, 7-6 SEC) in three sets, 25-15, 25-12, 25-16, Friday night at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. With the win, the Lady Volunteers extended their winning streak to a season-high six matches as well, marking their longest run without a loss since claiming nine straight in 2005.
"We are playing really well offensively right now," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "We have been getting better and better as the season has gone on and I'm really excited about the direction we are heading. Our serve and pass game was as consistent as it has been all year which let us run an efficient offense, side-out at a high percentage and defend their offense a little easier."
The Big Orange offensive attack was on full display, outhitting Georgia, .391 to .029, committing just eight errors while knocking out 44 kills on 92 swings. UT's hitting percentage marked its highest during conference play this year and is the seventh-best effort by an SEC team during league action in 2008.
Senior Milan Clarke paced the offense with a match-high 12 kills, while hitting .429 (12-3-21) in the contest. Finishing just behind her was junior Farren Powe, who hit at an impressive .692 clip with 10 kills on 13 attacks with just a single error. She also topped the squad's blocking effort with a match-best five putbacks, including one solo block and four block assists.
"I thought Milan played a very smart, experienced game," Patrick said. "She took big swings at the appropriate times and was able to take some heat off her shot in order to take advantage of some weaknesses in Georgia's defense. When she is able to do that, she really expands our offensive arsenal.
"We've been trying to get Farren involved in our offense over the last four or five matches and our passing has allowed us to do just that," Patrick said. "She was successful because of her ability to hit the ball to certain spots on the floor and keep it away from their defenders. Her blocking stats are a direct result of some extra work she has been putting in during practice. It's always great to see hard work translate into success during a match."
On the defensive side of the court, junior libero Chloe Goldman continued her assault on the UT record book, notching a team-best 18 digs, improving her season total to 366 which gives her the 10th-highest single-season mark in school history, surpassing April Chapple's total of 356 during the 1983 campaign. Freshman Alyssa Hilby, senior Mindy Flynn and sophomore Nikki Fowler, meanwhile, tied for second on the squad with three blocks each. Fowler and junior Kylie Marshall also had seven kills and nine digs each in the contest.
"Chloe was all over the court tonight," Patrick said. "She continues to get more consistent with her defensive play and I am very proud of how her passing has improved over the past couple of weeks. There are very few liberos that have the ability to pass and dig at the level Chloe does."
The Orange and White opened the match with a quick, 25-15, victory in the initial set and never looked back en route to the sweep. The first frame set the tone for the night, as UT posted an amazing .552 hitting percentage (17-1-29), led by five kills from both Clarke and Powe. Although Georgia kept the score close early on, Tennessee broke the set open with a six-score spree that moved the score from 7-5 to 13-5 in almost no time at all. The Lady Vols got a pair of kills by Clarke, a smash by Fowler and took advantage of three UGA attack errors during the run.
Just moments later, with the scoreboard reading 14-7, the Big Orange went on another tear, scoring on three consecutive plays with Flynn pounding out back-to-back kills following a Hilby putaway. The Bulldogs answered right back with a trio of scores of their own though, getting a kills from sophomore Lindsey Gehan and senior Maria Taylor and a block by Taylor and sophomore Valentina Gonzalez, to put the score at 17-10. That would be as close as Georgia would get the rest of the way, however, as Tennessee claimed eight of the final 13 scores to take the first lead of the match.
If possible, the second set went even better for the Big Orange, which hit at an outstanding .632 clip to win the frame, 25-12. UT did not have a single attack error, while pounding out 12 kills on 19 total attacks. It was not the effort of any one player either, as no Lady Vol had more than three kills and a total of six different players recorded a putaway during the set. Georgia, meanwhile, had more errors than kills, hitting at a -.036 percentage (8-9-28).
If there were any fans thinking that the opening set was an aberration, those thoughts were quickly put to rest, as the Orange and White used a pair of six-point runs to take a 12-3 lead right out of the gates. Five of Georgia's nine errors in the set came during the first stretch, while Hilby sparked the second with a kill off an assist from freshman Kelsey Mahoney. Powe followed her lead and sent back a Gonzalez attack on the next play to prompt UGA Head Coach Joel McCartney to burn his first timeout at 8-3.
The tactic did not work at all, as Flynn and Powe joined forces straight out of the break to block an attack attempt by Taylor. Another Taylor error, a kill by Flynn and a service ace by Goldman rounded out the run. Despite the large lead, Tennessee kept its foot on the gas pedal for the remainder of the frame, never letting the Bulldogs closer than eight scores the rest of the way. UT closed the set out with a three-score spree, featuring kills from both Powe and Clarke and an ace by junior Michaela Hanakova.
Following a short intermission, the Lady Vols came out of the locker room and picked up right where they left off, finishing off the sweep with a convincing, 25-16, victory. Fowler opened the frame with a sharp kill before Flynn and Hilby joined forces to stuff Gonzalez and Hilby pounded out a kill to make it 3-0 UT before the Bulldogs could blink an eye.
Although a kill by Gehan got Georgia on the board, Tennessee effectively ended the set with a pair of four-point runs shortly thereafter. With the score at 7-4, Powe got the Big Orange rolling again with a blast down the center of the court. Clarke followed her example with a kill of her own, before Powe served an ace to force McCartney to call his initial timeout of the set. Once again, the break did little to slow the Orange and White attack as Clarke opened play back up with another kill.
After a pair of scores by Georgia, Tennessee was back at it once again, using a smash by Marshall to spark another set of four consecutive scores. Taylor gave the second point of the run to UT with an attack error before Hilby and Fowler teamed up for a sharp block of a Gehan swing. Hilby then recorded her second kill of the frame to finish up the streak and give UT a commanding 15-6 advantage.
From that point on, it was a back-and-forth battle with both teams claiming 10 of the final 20 points to account for the final score. Leading at 23-15 following a kill by Clarke, Patrick subbed in senior serving specialist Laurén LaFlamme, who was also celebrating her birthday on Friday, to finish off the victory. Although an Erika Clark kill gave Georgia another point, it would prove to be their last of the night, as she followed with a service error and Hilby and Fowler combined on a block to give UT the final tally of the match.
UT will put its season-long, six-match winning streak on the line this Sunday when LSU makes the trip to Knoxville for a 1:30 p.m. contest in Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Vols will be looking to avenge a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Tigers earlier this season on Sept. 26 in Baton Rouge, La.