Dec. 5, 2008
CLEMSON, S.C. - Playing in its school-record fourth straight five-set match, the University of Tennessee volleyball team fell just short in its bid to take out Clemson in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday evening at Jervey Gym in Clemson, S.C. The Lady Volunteers finish the 2008 campaign with a 22-10 record, doubling their win total from last season. With 11 more victories this year, UT recorded the third largest turnaround in NCAA Division I.
"First of all, I would like to congratulate Clemson on a great match," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "They were very physical at the net and are extremely talented. We stuck to our game plan pretty well but we just had a few too many unforced errors to win a match against such a good team.
"I do not want this loss to take away from the absolutely great season that our team had," Patrick said. "In my 12 years at Tennessee, I have never had a team improve throughout the course of a season as much as this one did. We fought our hearts out, not only tonight, but this entire season. As a coach, I really can't ask for anything more."
Sophomore Nikki Fowler recorded her seventh double-double of the season and 18th of her career with a match-high 19 kills and 13 digs. She also had two aces, two assists and a block in the contest. Also reaching double-digits in kills was senior Milan Clarke who tallied 13 putaways in the final match of her collegiate career. The Santa Monica, Calif., native also notched three digs and four blocks.
"Nikki has been our go-to player all season and she proved it again tonight," Patrick said. "People always talk about how many kills she has, but I can't stress how great she is in all of the other aspects of the game, whether it is passing, digging or blocking. She does it all for us. The impact that she has had on our program in just two years is hard to put into words. It is almost unbelievable.
"I could not be more proud of what Milan has accomplished this season," Patrick said. "Just like our other seniors, Mindy Flynn and Laurén LaFlamme, she has really stepped her game up to another level as a senior and is playing the best volleyball of her career. Her match tonight was indicative of that."
Juniors Chloe Goldman and Kylie Marshall paced the squad defensively with 27 and 20 digs, respectively. Marshall finished just one kill away from a double-double as well with nine kills to go along with four blocks, three aces and an assist. Goldman moved into second place on the UT single-season digs chart, finishing her junior campaign with 511 scoops to move past former Lady Vol Amy Morris' total of 506 set in 2005. She trails only her own single-season mark of 628 which she set last year.
Also standing out on the stat sheet were freshman Kelsey Mahoney and junior Michaela Hanakova who had dig totals of 12 and 11, respectively. Freshman Alyssa Hilby, meanwhile, tied her career high with eight blocks and junior Farren Powe tallied four putbacks.
Clemson struck the first blow of the contest, blasting its way to a 25-19 triumph in the opening frame. The Lady Vol offense struggled to get on track, hitting just .167 for the frame, compared to a .368 clip by CU. Fowler paced the UT attack with five kills, while Powe was perfect with four putaways on four attempts.
Although UT jumped out to an early 4-1 lead behind a kill and an ace by Marshall and a putaway by Fowler, the Tigers quickly came roaring back with a 10-1 run that put them up by a commanding 11-5 advantage. Despite the large deficit, the Lady Vols were undeterred, slowly inching their way back into contention.
With the scoreboard reading 14-8 in Clemson's favor, Powe's first kill of the evening sparked a three-point UT rally that also featured a kill by Fowler from the back row and a sharp block by Powe and Clarke. The Tigers answered right back, however, with a solo putback by Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Danielle Hepburn and a kill by Kelsey Murphy off an overpass to thwart the attempted rally. From that point on, neither team could mount much of a run with Clemson eventually emerging victorious, 25-19.
Tennessee responded in fine fashion in the second set, tying the match up at one game each heading into the intermission with a 25-19 victory. Fowler continued her torrid offensive pace, recording five more putaways, while Clarke got going with four kills and no errors on just six swings. Goldman kept the ball up on the defensive side with seven digs in the frame.
In a reversal of the opening set, Clemson took a 4-1 lead in the second frame only to see the Lady Vols come back to claim the win. After the Tigers' early run, UT got back-to-back kills from Powe and Marshall before an attack error by Lia Proctor tied it up at 4-4. The score remained tied until a four-score Tennessee spree broke open an eight-all deadlock. Clarke started the rally with an absolute laser from the left-side. Clarke and Hilby posted a block on the next play before Marshall recorded consecutive aces to put Tennessee up 12-8.
The Tigers were not going to back down without a fight, however, scoring on three straight plays to move within one point at 12-11. That would be as close as they would get though, with the Lady Vols immediately embarking on a 7-2 run that effectively ended the frame. Once again, it was Clarke that started the scoring spree, smashing a kill cross-court from the left side. Following a CU attack error and a solo block by Hepburn, UT scored three straight with a kill by Fowler that split a pair of back-row defenders and an ace by Goldman sandwiched around an error by Hepburn. Clemson was unable to get within four the rest of the way before a blast by Fowler fell wide off the right-side block to give UT the victory.
An 11-2 Clemson run in the middle of the third frame was too much for Tennessee to overcome as the Tigers took a 2-1 lead with a 25-19 triumph. For the third consecutive frame, Fowler tallied five kills, while four other Lady Vols notched two each. UT had a total of 24 digs in the set, led by six scoops from both Marshall and Fowler. Mahoney added five of her own as well.
With the score in Tennessee's favor at 10-9, Clemson took control of the set and refused to give it back. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Tigers had scored 11 of 13 points and taken an insurmountable 20-12 lead. Just moments later, a kill by Hepburn gave the Tigers seven chances at set point. Although a sharp block by Hilby and Flynn and a kill by Fowler from the right side provided some hope for the Orange and White faithful in attendance, it proved to be too little, too late with a UT attack running along the top of the net and falling just wide to end the set.
An absolute battle ensued in the fourth frame with Tennessee emerging victorious with a hard-fought 25-23 triumph. It was Flynn's turn to step up offensively, leading UT with five kills, while Marshall and Fowler recorded four each. Goldman continued her stellar defensive play with 12 digs in the frame.
After a back-and-forth opening to the set, the Lady Vols found themselves trailing by two at 14-16. A kill by Powe moved the score within one and Patrick made the decision to send junior Jaye Loyd in to serve. The move proved to be just what the team needed as the Stockton, Calif., native led her squad on a five-point tear that put UT up 19-16.
The Tigers responded with a run of their own, however, scoring seven of the next 10 points to take a 23-22 lead. With its season on the line, Tennessee ended the set with three straight scores. Marshall started the streak with a blast from the back row and Flynn followed with a smash that landed wide off the right-side block. Patrick then subbed in freshman Kayla Jeter for the first time in the match and she proceeded to take an over pass and slam it home for the kill.
Unfortunately for fans of the Lady Volunteers, they were unable to come away with their fourth consecutive five-set victory with Clemson advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 15-12 victory.
It looked like the Tigers would cruise to an easy win as they jumped out to a 10-2 advantage. Much like it had all season, however, Tennessee dug down deep and decided it was not going to go down without leaving everything it had on the court. The Lady Vols slowly got their feet under them by trading the next four scores, before taking off on an 8-2 tear, including five straight scores.
Back-to-back blasts by Powe and Hilby started the run, but a kill by Jeannette Abbott gave Clemson its 13th point of the set. Taking advantage of a service error by Abbott and a net violation by Cansu Ozdemir on the next two plays, UT cut its deficit to five at 13-8 prompting CU Head Coach Jolene Jordan Hoover to burn her first timeout. The tactic did not work though, as an attack by Proctor hit the left-side antenna on the first play out of the break. Consecutive blocks then put UT within two at 13-11. Fowler and Hilby first teamed up to send back a Proctor attack before Clarke and Hilby sent back a shot by Ozdemir.
The rally would fall just short, unfortunately, with Proctor knocking a kill off the left-side block to put Clemson at match point. Clarke kept the Lady Vols going for one more play with a kill that hit hands at the net and landed long, but Hepburn finished off the match just seconds later with a blast from the right side.