Nov. 4, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The Tennessee Lady Vol volleyball team won an epic five-set battle over No. 13 Florida on Sunday, topping the first-place Gators, 3-2 (17-25, 25-21, 27-29, 25-23, 19-17), in front of 2,475 fans at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla. It was the Lady Vols third straight win over the Gators, who were unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play entering the match.
The win marks UT's first three-match winning streak over Florida since 1990 - when UT won four in a row in the series - and improves Tennessee to 17-6 overall and 10-4 in league action. Florida drops to 19-4 overall and 13-1 in SEC play with the loss.
"I'm just really excited for the players," said head coach Rob Patrick. "They have been working hard for this entire year. This is one of the hardest places to win a match and Florida is one of the top teams in the country. It was just two great and very physical volleyball teams battling each other for over two hours."
"I was really proud of how our team played the big points really well," Patrick said. "This was a team win. Everybody on our team - even in our practices - had a big say in how we were going to perform here tonight so I couldn't be more proud of them."
The Big Orange was led offensively by junior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson, who recorded a team-high 20 kills and posted 11 digs for a double-double. She committed just four errors on 70 swings. UT had three players pick up double-doubles in the match. Sophomore Tiffany Baker finished with 10 kills and 11 digs and her classmate Mary Pollmiller dished out 39 assists and had 14 digs.
Defensively, Tennessee was stout all match. UT picked up 19 team blocks, marking the highest for a Gator opponent since the Big Orange recorded 21 in a five set win over Florida on Oct. 30, 2005.
Sophomore transfer Olivia Okoro led the way at the net, compiling a career-high eight blocks, while DeeDee Harrison and Kayla Jeter had seven and six, respectively. Three of Jeter's blocks were solo, marking a new career-best in the category. Harrison also put down a season-high 13 kills and hit .344, while Jeter added 12 kills and a blazing .400 attacking clip.
"Our middle hitters worked really hard and were key in helping to slow down Florida's potent offensive attack," Patrick said. "Kelsey, Kayla and Tiffany also did a fantastic job of setting up the blocks on the outside."
In the back row, junior libero Ellen Mullins continued her fantastic season with a 28-dig effort. With her first dig of the match, the Nashville native became Tennessee's 13th member of the 1,000 dig club. Freshman setter Bianca Arellano was only one assist shy of a double-double, finishing with nine helpers and a career-high 10 digs.
"Mary and Bianca did an absolutely fantastic job of finding the right hitters at the right time and feeding consistent sets throughout the match," said Patrick. "I'm really proud of Mary's defense and of course Ellen continued to play at an All-American level with 28 digs. Nikki Brice and Jasmine Brown also really helped solidify our defense when they were in. This was a total team win."
Despite Pollmiller notching a double-double in the opening set with 11 assists and 10 digs, the Gators hit .390 in the opening game and got a combined 11 kills from Ziva Recek and Chloe Mann en route to a 25-17 first-set victory. Florida, which used a 5-1 run to end the set, also had five team blocks in the first set. Offensively, Tennessee had a quartet of Lady Vols notch three kills in Harrison, Jeter, Robinson and Baker.
The Lady Vols took a 5-1 lead to start the second set and went up by as many as seven at 16-9, but the Gators roared back with a 9-2 run to level the game at 18. Following a Tennessee timeout, the Big Orange finished the set on a 7-3 run to take it 25-21 and head into the break level at 1-1. Robinson had six kills and hit .375 and Harrison had three blocks in the game to propel UT to the win. The Lady Vols committed just one attacking error on 41 attempts and hit at a .366 clip.
The third set was a back and forth affair between the two sides that consisted of nine ties and two lead changes. The Lady Vols continued to show their gutsy play in the set, fighting off four Florida set-point chances, but ultimately the Gators were able to string together a couple of kills to win an exciting set, 29-27. Florida's Ziva Recek put down 10 spikes in the set en route to her match-high 26-kill performance. Robinson added seven kills to her total in the third, but Florida setter Taylor Brauneis was able to spread it around between her hitters to put Florida on top, 2-1. Brauneis finished with a match-high 67 assists, including 17 in the third set.
Tennessee quickly went from down 5-3 in the fourth set to up 9-7 following a string of blocks. UT got solo rejections from Jeter and a couple combo blocks to spark the run. However, again the Gators were able to rally in front of their home crowd to level the set at 19. Tied at 23, the Big Orange got back to back kills from one of its senior leaders in Jeter. She put down her third and fourth kills of the set to secure the 25-23 fourth-set win and force a fifth game. Jeter hit .571 in the game, while Mullins came up huge in the back row with 10 digs.
Entering the match, Tennessee was 6-2 in five-setters this season and 6-2 all-time in five-setters against Florida, with its last loss in five coming in 1987.
Down 4-3 early in the deciding game, the Lady Vols rattled off three quick points, which included two Okoro blocks to go up 6-4 and force a Mary Wise timeout. Florida got things together after the quick break, scoring five-straight points to take its biggest lead of the set at 9-6. Once again, the Lady Vols were there with a response and battled their way back to a 12-12 tie with UF.
After a combined four match-point chances between the two sides, Leslie Cikra was able to put down a pass from Arellano to make it 18-17 in favor of the Orange and White. After a Pollmiller serve, the fifth-year senior crew of Harrison and Jeter put up a massive block in the middle of the net and sent a Betsy Smith swing back into Gator territory to secure the five-set victory with a 19-17 win in the deciding game.
In addition to Recek's 26 kills, Chloe Mann added 18 kills, while Smith and Tangerine Wiggs finished with 14 kills each. UF had three with 20 or more digs in the match. The Gators also committed 16 service errors in the match.
Tennessee will make its final road trip of the regular season next week, as the Lady Vols make trips to Oxford, Miss., for a matchup with Ole Miss and Columbia, S.C., where they will take on South Carolina. Friday's match against the Rebels is slated for a 7 p.m. CT time, while first serve against the Gamecocks is slated for 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.