Nov. 16, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Led by a career-high tying 20 kills from senior Leslie Cikra, five Lady Vols recorded double-digit kills as the Tennessee Lady Vol volleyball team rallied past Auburn in five sets, 23-25, 25-20, 29-31, 25-19, 15-6, on Friday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The win gives the Lady Vols their 20th of the campaign - marking the 21st 20-win season in program history and 10th under head coach Rob Patrick. Tennessee is now 20-6 overall and 13-4 in Southeastern Conference play. Auburn falls to 17-10 overall and 8-9 in league action. The match also marked Patrick's 500th career match at Tennessee, as he now holds a career record of 340-160.
"It has gone by really fast," said Patrick on his 500th career match. "I've had an incredible administration that's supported us and makes my job easy and then some absolutely incredible players that have put in a tremendous amount of work. Those are the things that I think of when you mention 500 matches. To be at a school like Tennessee and to be here that long, and to be wanted that long really means a lot to me."
"I knew Auburn was going to be this good - they're one of the hottest teams in the SEC," Patrick said. "There isn't going to be a ball that's hit that they don't touch. That's the way they play. We just had to be able to be comfortable with that - knowing that we're going to get our shot to get a kill. Our servers did a wonderful job staying with the serve and hitting the zones we were calling and finally in the fourth and fifth set we were able to be effective with it."
Cikra led the charge with 20 kills and a stellar .425 attacking percentage. She put down half of her 40 swings and committed just three attack errors. Junior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson had 15 kills and 13 digs for her SEC-leading 19th double-double this season.
Redshirt senior Kayla Jeter had 12 kills and 13 digs, while her classmate DeeDee Harrison added 11 putaways and six blocks, including a career-high tying three solo rejections. Sophomore Olivia Okoro tied a career high with 10 spikes and set a new career-best with a .471 attacking percentage.
"Leslie did exactly what we needed her to do," Patrick said on the senior playing outside. "What I was really happy with was the errors. She made very few errors, made great swings, did the right things with the ball, played hard and put up a nice block. I couldn't be more excited for her because she's put in a lot of time and work."
"I was really excited about Olivia's performance - it was very low-error hitting .471," said Patrick. "We needed a middle to get some kills for us and she did a great job in those two-hitter rotations that we were in. And also defensively she had five blocks and did a really nice job. She also served some nice balls for us so a really great all-around game. She's somebody that continues to improve and we're excited about the way she played tonight."
It was the first time Tennessee had five players with double-digit kills in a single match since Dec. 2, 2011 in the NCAA Tournament Second Round matchup against Ohio State.
The Big Orange's Mary Pollmiller added 59 assists and 11 digs to post Tennessee's third double-double of the match. On the defensive side, junior libero Ellen Mullins added 28 digs, while Bianca Arellano and Nikki Brice added nine and six scoops, respectively. Okoro also finished the match with five blocks.
"Ellen was instrumental in us being able to play and sustain the Auburn onslaught," said Patrick. "She was able to really continue rallies and allow us to get more swings than we normally would have. The she passed a lot of balls and she did a really good job with that."
The win improves Tennessee to 8-2 in five-set matches this season. The 10 five-setters ties a program-record with the 1991 season and the eight wins is not only the most in program history, but it's also more five-setters than the Lady Vols have played in 28 of the past 33 seasons.
With four team blocks in the opening set, Auburn held the Lady Vols to a .105 attacking clip and handed UT its first loss in a set since losing the third at Florida (11/4). Tennessee held the early lead, but the Tigers used a 5-0 run to tie the match at 12 and would take their first lead of the match at 14-13. Later in the set, Arellano put the Lady Vols back on top with an ace at 19-17, but Auburn closed out the game on a 4-2 run to take a 1-0 lead in the match with a 25-23 first-set victory.
A closely contested second set consisted of 10 ties and three lead changes, but the Lady Vols were able to come out on top and tie the match with a 25-20 victory. Tennessee used a 7-1 run midway through the game and finished it on a 6-1 stretch. Mullins had seven digs in the second and Pollmiller dished out 14 helpers as the Big Orange posted a .381 attacking percentage in the second. The senior trio of Jeter, Cikra and Harrison combined for 13 kills in the set.
Even tighter than the second frame, the third set consisted of 20 ties and 12 lead changes and had a combined seven set-point chances between the two sides. The teams traded points throughout the set until Auburn was able to finish out the thrilling third with a kill and block from Camila Jersonsky. The middle blocker combined on the block with teammate Chloe Rowand to win the set. Auburn's Sarah Bullock led the game with 10 kills. She finished with a match-high 24 kills.
Tennessee went down early to start the fourth, but used an 8-1 and a 6-1 run to really swing the momentum. Cikra led the charge with six kills on 11 swings and only one error for a .455 hitting percentage and Robinson added four putaways. Pollmiller dished out 14 assists and led the Big Orange to a .350 attacking mark and a 25-19 win in the fourth set.
UT carried the momentum into the fifth by jumping out to a 4-0 lead after consecutive service aces from Pollmiller. Auburn was able to cut the deficit to three points at 5-2, but behind Arellano's serve, the Lady Vols closed the match on a 6-1 run to defeat the Tigers 15-6 in the deciding set and seal the win.
The Orange and White is back on the court at 1 p.m. on Sunday when it hosts LSU. The Lady Vols will hold Senior Day ceremonies for Cikra, Harrison, Jeter and Jasmine Brown prior to the contest.