Nov. 4, 2006
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In an extremely hard-fought match, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (17-9, 8-8 Southeastern Conference) fell just short in its bid to win, dropping a five-game decision, 30-24, 30-20, 24-30, 28-30, 11-15, to the University of Alabama (15-9, 10-5 SEC) on Friday night at Stokely Athletics Center.
"I am really proud of the fact that our team played hard on each play tonight," UT head coach Rob Patrick said. "We went out there and slugged it out, but we made some unfortunate errors at the wrong times and could not quite pull out the close games."
The Lady Vol attack was on a roll early, posting a .286 hitting percentage through the first two games, but had trouble late, as it hit just .127 over the final three. On the other side of the net, the Tide offense went in the exact opposite direction, as it improved from a .078 attack average in the first two sets, to .237 over the course of the last three.
Senior Kelsey Fautsch collected the most kills for UT with 14, while freshman Leah Hinkey was the squad's most efficient attacker, knocking out 13 kills on 23 swings with just four errors for a .391 hitting percentage. Both junior Yuliya Stoyanova and senior Sarah Blum also tallied double-digit kill totals, with 13 and 10, respectively.
On defense, senior Annie Sadowski recorded a career-high 24 digs to lead the team to a season-high 94 in the loss. Freshman Kylie Marshall and Stoyanova also posted strong efforts with 16 digs each, while sophomore Chelsea Noble added 15 of her own. In the block category, Hinkey tied her career-high with a team-best eight denials and Blum had seven, to move into sole possession of fourth place on UT's single-season blocks chart with 168 on the year. Hinkey also added the first two service aces of her Rocky Top career for good measure.
"We had a number of people play some great volleyball in this match." Patrick said. "Kelsey did a wonderful job of coming off the bench in the third game without missing a beat and Leah was huge for us. Hitting .391 with eight blocks as a freshman, in a high-level match like this, is amazing. Annie also really did a nice job both passing and serving tonight, in addition to making some terrific plays defensively."
The Big Orange took control of the opening frame from the start and never looked back, en route to a 30-24 victory. After taking a 3-2 lead on a Milan Clarke putaway, the Lady Vols would not trail again during the set. Alabama cut the UT advantage to three or less scores on a number of occasions, but the Orange and White had an answer for each surge. A four-point run, punctuated by a resounding Blum kill, countered the initial comeback attempt and extended Tennessee's lead to five at 14-9. The back-and-forth play continued, with the momentum continuously changing hands, but the Lady Vols emerged still clinging to a 26-22 lead before taking charge and closing out the set by winning four of the final six scores.
Tennessee never gave Alabama a chance in the second game, sprinting to a 30-20 win and two-set advantage heading into the intermission. With a 20-18 lead, a Big Orange triple-block from Blum, Fautsch and Stoyanova opened up the flood gates, sparking a run in which UT claimed 10 of the set's final 12 scores. During that span, four different Lady Vols sent attacks crashing to the floor and the team added another two blocks. Stoyanova was the squad's definitive leader during the frame, pacing the team with eight kills, five digs and three blocks. As a unit, Tennessee out-hit the Tide by a wide margin, posting a .317 hitting percentage to Alabama's mark of .098.
After the break, UT continued to grind away, but found itself trailing for the first time since the 1-2 mark in the opening frame, down 9-11. On the ensuing play, a group of Lady Vols collided in the center of the court and Stoyanova was forced to leave the match with an apparent injury. The Orange and White rallied, however, and was able to reassume the lead at 20-19, following a Hinkey smash, but the Tide was not done yet, and stormed its way to a 30-24 victory by claiming 11 of the last 14 points in the game.
Once again, the Lady Vols fell short at the end, as they lost the fourth set 30-28. Alabama used three consecutive scores to break a 12-12 tie, and take the advantage midway through the frame, but UT slowly fought its way back into a 25-all deadlock, capping off the comeback bid with a three-point run to tie the score. The Tide, however, was unfazed and held off the attack to extend the match to a fifth and deciding game. Hinkey was perfect offensively in the game, pounding out a 1.000 attack percentage with a kill on each of her four attempts.
Despite winning the first two plays, the Orange and White was not able to generate enough offense to earn a win in the final frame, dropping the set 15-11. With the score knotted up at seven each, Alabama found its rhythm and used three kills, a block and a Tennessee attack error to take a commanding 12-7 advantage. Although UT put together a three-point streak near the end, it was too little, too late, as a Crystal Hudson blast ended the match.
The Lady Vols will have a week off from competition before hitting the road to face Georgia at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10. UT will then move on to Columbia, S.C., to square off with South Carolina at 1 p.m. two days later.