Nov. 2, 2012
STARKVILLE, Miss. - In a complete team effort, the Tennessee Lady Vol volleyball team won its ninth consecutive match against Mississippi State, sweeping the Bulldogs, 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-17), on Friday night at the Newell-Grissom Building in Starkville, Miss.
The Big Orange, which hit a blazing .348 as a squad, improves to 16-6 overall and 9-4 in Southeastern Conference play with the win. Mississippi State drops to 4-19 overall and is still in search of its first league win with a 0-14 mark.
"I was really happy with the way we came out - after the first set - and played really low-error volleyball," said head coach Rob Patrick. "I was happy with how we ended the first set and how we came out in the third set and were really focused-in and played great volleyball to get that set kicked off. I was really proud of how our players did a fantastic job of being patient offensively and waiting for their opening to go for their kill shots."
The Lady Vols were led by junior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson and redshirt senior DeeDee Harrison offensively. Robinson had 13 kills and hit just under .300, while Harrison added 10 kills and an even .500 attacking clip. She committed just two errors on 16 attempts. The Nashville native also added five blocks.
Defensively, Tennessee had three record double-digit digs with junior libero Ellen Mullins leading the way with 14. Mullins needs one more scoop to become the Lady Vols 13th member of the 1,000-career dig club. Kayla Jeter tied a career-high with 13 digs and sophomore setter Mary Pollmiller notched her 12th double-double of the season with 10 digs and 31 assists.
"I was really pleased to see Kayla's defense," Patrick said. "She had our second-most digs today and she doesn't get enough credit for her back row play. She's one of our most-steady serve receivers and somebody that can do a great job from the service line and back row for us."
Tennessee held Mississippi State to a .148 attacking percentage and also outperformed the Bulldogs in kills, assists, digs and blocks. It was UT's 24 win in the last 25 meetings with MSU.
Freshman Bianca Arellano also contributed to the Lady Vol attack, adding six assists and an ace. Sophomore Tiffany Baker finished with nine kills, Leslie Cikra had five spikes and Olivia Okoro added four kills for UT. Cikra and Okoro combined for just one attacking error and hit .556 and .429, respectively.
"It's really important for us to get the ball spread out to all of our hitters and Bianca and Mary did a fantastic job of finding our hitters and getting them the ball at the right times," said Patrick. "It allowed us to hit for a very high percentage."
Mississippi State won the opening point of the match, but Tennessee rallied behind quartet of Lady Vols to win the opening game, 25-18. Sophomores Okoro and Baker and redshirt seniors Jeter and Harrison each slammed down three kills in the game to lead UT to a scorching .455 attacking clip. The Big Orange committed just one error on 33 attempts and out-killed the Bulldogs, 16-8, in the set. Tennessee also held Mississippi State to a .111 hitting percentage.
Despite falling behind 5-1 to start the second frame, the Bulldogs rallied to tie the set at 15. However, Robinson and Harrison came up big late in the game, leading the Lady Vols to a 25-21 victory and a 2-0 lead heading into the break. Robinson slammed down five kills and Harrison added four in the middle. The duo also combined for four blocks between the first two sets. Mullins inched closer to her milestone in the second frame, totaling 10 digs after the opening two games.
Tennessee came out of the break fired up and took early control with a 9-1 run to start the set. The run included four kills from Robinson and three blocks from Harrison. Robinson continued to lead her squad throughout the set, compiling seven kills, three digs, two blocks and hitting .375 to lead the Big Orange to a 25-17 victory and its seventh sweep of the season. Pollmiller dished out 12 helpers in the set and added five digs. Mullins also added five scoops in the final game.
The Lady Vols return to action in two days when they travel down to Gainesville, Fla., to take on SEC-leading and 13th-ranked Florida at the O'Connell Center. The Gators enter the match with a perfect 13-0 mark in conference play this season. That match will be broadcast live on CSS with first serve slated for 2 p.m. ET.
"This is why players come to Tennessee - to play these big matches and play ranked teams," said Patrick. "We expect a battle down there. We're going to have to play one of our best matches to be successful, but I'm excited about where our team is right now, how we're playing and to get down there and compete against a really good team that we respect tremendously."