Nov. 2, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The University of Tennessee volleyball team (17-8, 10-4 Southeastern Conference) continued its torrid pace through the second half of its SEC schedule, claiming its seventh straight victory with a clean sweep, 25-22, 25-11, 25-23, over LSU (12-9, 7-7 SEC), Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. Sophomore Nikki Fowler paced the Lady Vol attack with a match-high 15 kills.
"Our team is playing with a lot of confidence right now," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "That confidence comes from the fact that our setters are finally getting comfortable with our offense, the tempo we are setting and their knowledge of our hitter's tendencies.
"It has also really helped that we have had the same starting lineup on the court for the past six weeks," Patrick said. "We have also been getting some huge contributions from our non-starters during practice. Jaye Loyd, Amanda Friday, Laurén LaFlamme, Kayla Jeter, Carol Cheade and DeeDee Harrison have all done an extremely good job of pushing our play in practice up a notch and forcing everyone else to perform at a high level at all times.
"LSU really served as tough as we've been served all year and I really liked how our passers hung in there and handled the initial onslaught in the first set," Patrick said. "Our offense starts with Chloe, Kylie and Nikki's passing. They were able to get a bead on their serves and become more and more comfortable as the match went on.
"We were also able to establish our middle attack as well, which opened things up for our outside hitters," Patrick said. "Once again, I would like to stress that our setters did a fantastic job of putting up hittable balls with a great tempo to all of our hitters."
In addition to her 15 kills, Fowler hit at a stellar .382 clip with just a pair of errors in a team-high 34 attacks. She also posted nine digs, four blocks and an ace to round out a solid, all-around performance. Senior Mindy Flynn was second on the squad with nine kills, while also tying her career-high with six digs and recording two blocks.
"Although I thought Nikki had a quiet first two sets offensively, she really came up big for us in the third set, getting some kills at some very opportune times," Patrick said. "I am also very excited about what Mindy has been doing as of late. She has done a tremendous job of being able to attack the ball at both pins very effectively. When she is able to do that, it really helps to diversify our offense and makes us very difficult to defend."
Defensively, juniors Chloe Goldman and Farren Powe paced the team with 13 digs and six blocks, respectively. As a team, Tennessee collected a total of 10 blocks, with freshman Alyssa Hilby and junior Kylie Marshall each tallying three of their own as well. Marshall also had seven digs in the contest while freshman Kelsey Mahoney recorded eight.
"We just started focusing on our team blocking a couple weeks ago and we are definitely beginning to see some results in our matches," Patrick said. "Our improvement in blocking over the past few weeks has allowed us to take our defense to another level."
The two teams engaged in an extremely hard-fought set to open the match, with Tennessee eventually emerging victorious, 25-22, after eight ties and four lead changes. The Lady Vols utilized a balanced offensive attack to pick up the win, hitting .333 as a team and getting three kills from four different players.
The Big Orange struck the first blow of the contest, jumping out to a quick, 6-2 lead behind the strength of a four-point run that featured kills by Powe, Marshall and Flynn and an ace by Fowler. A service error, however, ended the spree and allowed LSU to return the favor just moments later, when it scored four-consecutive points of its own to go up, 9-8.
The two squads then traded the lead a couple of times before Tennessee used a three-score spree to spark a run in which it won points on six of eight plays. Flynn opened the scoring with a left-side blast that landed wide off the block. Fowler then followed with a kill as well, before a Kyna Washington attack landed long to move the score to 14-12 in UT's favor. The Lady Vols continued to extend their advantage, getting kills by Flynn and Powe and a block by Marshall and Powe over the course of the next four plays to go up 17-14 and force LSU Head Coach Fran Flory to call her first timeout.
Although the Tigers were able to move within one out of the break by scoring back-to-back points on a kill and a block, they could never quite get the set back to a tie score. Leading 18-17, Tennessee effectively ended the frame with a three-point run that featured a pair of LSU errors and a triple block by senior Milan Clarke, Hilby and Fowler. The two squads then traded the final eight points to account for the final score.
The second set went even better than the first for UT, which took a commanding two-set lead into the intermission with a dominating, 25-11, triumph. Once again, a solid effort on both ends of the court propelled the Orange and White to victory, as it outhit LSU, .320 to -.079, and topped the Tigers in kills (11-7), digs (18-11) and blocks (4-0). Powe and Marshall powered the attack, as both players hit .750 in the frame with three kills and no errors on four swings.
Although LSU claimed the first two scores of the frame, Tennessee responded in dominating fashion with spurts of three and seven points, sandwiched around just a single Tiger score, to take a 10-3 advantage. LSU attack errors accounted for all three points in the first run, while Flynn, Marshall and Fowler combined to smash out a total of five kills in the second spree.
Following kills by Brittnee Cooper and Washington that put LSU within five at 10-5, the Big Orange went right back on the attack, taking an insurmountable 22-7 lead with scores on 12 of the next 14 plays. During that span, UT took advantage of four unforced errors by the Tigers, got an ace from junior Michaela Hanakova, a block by Powe and Marshall, and a total of six kills, including three by Powe, two by Fowler and one by Marshall. LSU would finish the set strong, outscoring UT, 4-3 down the stretch, but it would prove to be too little, too late, as the Lady Vols claimed the set 25-11.
Fowler came alive offensively in the third and final set, blasting out nine kills in the frame to lead Tennessee to a 25-23 victory and its sixth sweep in the past seven matches. The Dallas, Texas, native did not have a single attack error in the frame despite taking a team-high 16 swings, giving her a stellar .562 hitting percentage in the set. The Orange and White did not suffer any sort of letdown following the 10-minute intermission, cruising to a six-point lead at 16-10 following a kill by Fowler that landed long after being touched at the net which capped off a four-point run. Although it looked like UT would simply cruise to the sweep, LSU had other ideas, returning the game to a deadlock at 17-17 just moments later after scoring six consecutive points of its own.
The sudden burst seemed to stun the Big Orange for a bit, but a smash by Flynn from the left-side allowed it to steady itself and get back on track. The Tigers were able to take their first lead of the frame at 19-18 following a kill by Cooper and an ace by Lauren Waclawczyk, but Tennessee answered immediately with back-to-back blasts by Powe and Fowler that forced Flory to burn her second and final timeout of the set.
LSU tied the score back up at 20-all on another Cooper kill on the first play out of the break, before Hilby gave the lead back to UT with a blast down the center of the court. Once again, the Tigers refused to go away, getting a kill from Tania Schatow and a block by Washington and Michele Williams. This time, it was Patrick's turn to stop the match with a timeout to reorganize his troops and slow LSU's momentum.
The tactic worked to perfection as Tennessee then proceeded to finish off the match by winning four of the final five points. Hilby and Clarke joined forces to send back a Washington attack on the first play before an attack error by LSU setter Samantha Dabbs made it 23-22 UT. The Tigers made one last push as Williams blasted a cross-court kill from the right side to tie the score back up, but consecutive attack errors by Angela Bensend and Brittney Johnson marked the final two points of the afternoon, giving UT the 3-0 triumph.
The Lady Vols will take their league-best, seven-match winning streak on the road next weekend when they travel to Arkansas and Ole Miss. The Orange and White will take on the Razorbacks at 7 p.m. CT in Fayetteville, Ark., on Fri., Nov. 7, before venturing down to Oxford, Miss., for a 1:30 p.m. CT showdown with the Rebels two days later.