Nov. 29, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. --After losing the opening two sets, the Tennessee Lady Vol volleyball team battled back valiantly to force a fifth set in its NCAA Tournament First Round matchup against Michigan, but the Wolverines were able to pull out the deciding game and take the match by a 3-2 (25-22, 25-17, 22-25, 19-25, 15-10) margin at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.
Tennessee finishes the 2012 campaign with a 22-8 overall record, while the Wolverines - who advance to face the winner of 10th-seeded Louisville and Belmont - improve to 24-11 on the season.
"I'm very proud of this team and their ability to play very, very hard against a good team that was really taking it to us the first two sets," said head coach Rob Patrick. "They never stopped believing in being able to be successful in this match and they played their hearts out. I am really proud of how they represented Tennessee out on the court today."
The loss ends the outstanding careers of seniors Jasmine Brown, Leslie Cikra, Kayla Jeter and DeeDee Harrison. The quartet concluded their time at Rocky Top with a school record .786 winning percentage with 99 wins and only 27 losses.
Cikra, Jeter and Harrison all concluded their careers with a solid match against the Wolverines. Harrison led the Lady Vols defensively with a career-best 12 blocks - bringing her career total to 372 rejections - a mark good for seventh in the UT record books. The Nashville native also ends her career ranked fourth in school history with a 1.08 blocks per set average.
Harrison and Cikra both put down 12 kills in the match, while Jeter added 11 putaways, hit .333 and had nine digs. Cikra and Jeter combined for 10 blocks. Brown had two digs and an assists against U-M. Jeter and Cikra conclude their careers with 934 and 908 kills, respectively.
"It's tough. The toughest thing is that we're done this year," said Patrick. "We have four incredible seniors who have won 99 matches here. They have the best winning percentage in Tennessee history, gone to four NCAA tournaments, won a conference championship, some things that Tennessee volleyball has never done."
"I wanted this success in the post season for them," Patrick said. "I really did, they deserved it. They put in the time and energy and sacrifice, sweat and blood and everything else into it. That's why I wanted the success for the players and especially for the seniors for what they've done for this program."
Junior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson led the Big Orange with 15 kills and tied a season high with 24 digs to notch her 22nd double-double of the season. Junior libero Ellen Mullins had 22 digs, while sophomore setter Mary Pollmiller dished out 39 assists and added 11 scoops. Freshman setter Bianca Arellanofinished with 10 assists and seven digs.
The Wolverines had two players with 20 or more kills, with All-Big Ten performer Lexi Erwin leading the match with 26. Molly Toon added 20 spikes and hit .370 for Big Blue. U-M held Tennessee to a .162 attacking line in the match.
Despite Tennessee taking a 3-0 lead to start the opening set, the Michigan Wolverines used runs of 4-2 and 6-2 to take over the first frame and win it by a 25-22 margin. The Lady Vols pulled it back to within one point at 21-20, but U-M ended the set on a 4-1 run to take a 1-0 lead. The Wolverines had 16 digs and 4.5 team blocks in the opener. Michigan's Jennifer Cross had three blocks in the first, including two solo. UT's Harrison led the stanza with seven kills and hit .364.
Michigan kept on going in the second set, using a run of six-consecutive points to never surrender the lead and go up 2-0 into the break with a 25-17 decision. Through the opening two games, Michigan was hitting an even .300 as a team, while the Lady Vols were swinging at a .155 clip. Harrison led UT with nine kills at the break, while Jeter added six spikes. Both Robinson - who put down four in the game - and Cikra added five putaways through two. Erwin led the match with 11 kills at the break.
The squads traded points through the early portion of the third game, but Tennessee was able to break it open with runs of 3-0 and 5-2 to go up 16-11 on Big Blue. Later in the set, Michigan went on a rally of its own to pull back to within two points at 21-19. Led by Robinson, the Lady Vols went on to put the third set away by a 25-22 margin. The junior had six kills to lead the Lady Vols and had help defensively from Harrison and Jeter - who each tallied three blocks.
Robinson, Jeter and Cikra each put down four kills in the fourth set and sparked a 7-0 run for the Big Orange in the fourth set. Tennessee was able to sideout 73 percent of the time in the fourth and had great defensive team play. UT had 21 digs and five team blocks in the game as Tennessee was able to force a fifth set with a 25-19 fourth-set victory.
With the fifth set level at three, Michigan rallied behind its setter, Lexi Dannemiller. She notched back to back service aces and sparked a 7-2 Blue and Maize run to put the Wolverines up 10-5 and in position for the win. Tennessee cut it to 12-10, but after a U-M timeout, the Wolverines put down three straight kills, including two from Dannemiller, to win the set 15-10 and take the match in five. It was UT's 12th five-setter of the season, which sets a new program record.
The Lady Vols, who made their program record fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, finished the 2012 season in third in the Southeastern Conference with a 15-5 league mark, bolstered by All-SEC performances from Robinson and sophomore Tiffany Baker. 2012 marked the 21st 20-win season in program history for the Lady Vols.
For more information about the Lady Vols during the offseason, visit UTSports.com/volleyball and follow @LadyVol_Vball on Twitter. Remember to use the hashtag #TNVB for all things related to Big Orange volleyball.