Nov. 12, 2006
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The University of Tennessee volleyball team (18-10, 9-9 Southeastern Conference) could not overcome a dominating performance from South Carolina All-American candidate Shonda Cole, as it dropped a four-game decision to the Gamecocks (14-15, 7-11 SEC), 30-21, 24-30, 24-30, 31-33, Sunday afternoon at the Volleyball Competition Facility in Columbia, S.C.
"This is a tough loss, because I thought we played out of character," UT head coach Rob Patrick said. "We made quite a few more attack errors than we have had in previous matches and that hurt us. I also thought that our serving faltered and, with those two areas of inconsistent play, we were not able to sustain any momentum."
"As disappointing of a loss that this was, I know the team will rebound and get ready to play two big matches at home this weekend," Patrick said.
Senior Kelsey Fautsch led the Orange and White attack with a team-high 23 kills and a season-high 61 swings, while fellow classmate Sarah Blum added 13 putaways in the contest. Blum also tied sophomore Mindy Flynn for the most blocks on the squad with five and senior Annie Sadowski collected a team-best 18 digs. Freshman Kylie Marshall and Fautsch also posted double-digit dig totals with 10 and 11, respectively.
For South Carolina, Cole knocked out 29 kills on 73 attempts to lead all performers. She also tied for a Gamecock high with 12 digs in addition to recording three service aces and three blocks.
The opening frame was all Lady Vols, as their offense came out of the gate on fire. UT out-hit South Carolina .560 to .147, en route to a 30-21 victory. The score was close early on, with the two teams tied at 10, but UT would claim three consecutive points, capped off by an ace from Noble, to make the first push of the match. After the two squads traded the next 10 scores, Leah Hinkey served nine straight plays to give Tennessee a commanding 26-15 lead. During that span, Fautsch recorded three kills, including a blast that fell wide off the block to end the run. South Carolina closed the gap to seven at 28-21 on Shonda Cole's seventh kill of the frame, but consecutive Gamecock attack errors closed out the set.
"We just started using Leah as a server in matches and she has done a terrific job of consistently putting our opponent in tough situations with her strong serve," Patrick said.
In the second game, USC took advantage of 10 Tennessee attack errors to even the match at one game a piece, winning the set 30-24. The Gamecocks were nearly unstoppable to start the frame, as they used three runs of three points, separated by only a pair of UT scores, to claim an early 9-2 advantage. The Lady Vols fought valiantly to come back and were able to trim the lead to as few as four, following a sharp block by Hinkey and Noble that brought the score to 25-21. That would be as close as the Orange and White would get, however, and another Cole smash ended the game and sent the two squads into the locker room all tied up.
Tennessee was unable to finish off its comeback bid after South Carolina took control midway through the third game, falling 30-24. With the score knotted up at 11, the Gamecocks proceeded to claim nine of the following 12 points to move ahead by six at 20-14. Noble ended the run with a kill to the back-right corner of the court and Marshall and Fautsch followed with an ace and a kill, respectively, to cut the lead back down to three. A timeout by USC head coach Nancy Somera, however, halted the Lady Vols' momentum and her squad won points on five of the next six plays to move its advantage back out to seven. Tennessee answered by going on a scoring spree of its own, highlighted by two sharp blocks and a putaway by Blum, to shrink the lead back down to three. USC, however, followed with a three-point run, and eliminated any chance of a UT comeback. The Lady Vols struggled offensively in the set, hitting just .028 to the Gamecocks .150.
An absolute battle ensued in the fourth game, with South Carolina emerging victorious 33-31, giving the Gamecocks their first win over Tennessee in the last eight matches between the two teams. Trailing 24-22 after USC won eight points in nine plays, the Lady Vols turned to Hinkey to get them back in the game. The Glenwood Springs, Colo., native sparked a seven-point Lady Vol run with another strong serving performance, punctuating a seven-point streak with consecutive aces to give her team a 28-24 lead. An unforced error by UT and two Cole blasts cut the lead to two, but a Blum smash down the center of the court gave the Big Orange a chance to move the match to a fifth game. Tennessee could not capitalize on the opportunity, however, and three consecutive scores by the Gamecocks put them at match-point. The Orange and White was able to fend off the first two game-ending attempts but two Gamecocks combined to end the match with a block on their third chance.
The Lady Vols will return to Knoxville for their final home stand of the season next weekend. A showdown with No. 7 Florida is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17, and Auburn will head to Rocky Top for a 1:30 p.m. contest two days later. The matchup with the Gators will be tape-delayed to air on FSN South at 2 p.m. on Nov. 19.