Dec. 10, 2004
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- The No. 9 University of Tennessee volleyball team fell to No. 7 Ohio State, 29-31, 27-30, 30-16, 30-26, 15-12, in an NCAA regional semifinal on Friday night, concluding its record season with a 32-3 mark. The Lady Vols' .914 winning percentage is the highest that UT has ever recorded, while the two NCAA Tournament wins this season were the most in a tournament in school history. The 32 wins are the most at UT since the 1981 team went 34-22.
The Lady Vols, a 12th seed nationally, saw their 14-match winning streak end in the loss to the fifth-seeded Buckeyes (30-3). The winning streak was the longest at Rocky Top since the 1980 squad ran off 22 straight from Oct. 2-31.
"We played really well," Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "I'm very proud of the team, not only for this match, but for the whole season. Ohio State played very good defense, providing their offense with opportunities. I don't feel like our defense stopped them the way we could have.
"Not having experience caught up with us in this match. None of our players had played in a Sweet 16 match before tonight. Tennessee hadn't been to an NCAA Sweet 16 in 20 seasons. (the 1982-84 squads made it when one victory qualified a team for the regional semifinals)
"The players put in a tremendous amount of work since last January; they realized that work equals success."
The end of the first game saw two service aces from senior outside hitter Whitney Gifford (York, Pa. / Dallastown H.S.) secure the 31-29 game one victory for the Lady Vols. Gifford hadn't played in the match until she subbed in and went to the service line with the score tied, 29-29. The game was tight throughout as Tennessee took its largest lead early, 5-1, and Ohio State had a later 14-10 advantage for their biggest margin.
The Lady Vols took a commanding 17-10 advantage in the second game, but Ohio State rallied back with a 10-3 run to tie the game at 20. A kill from junior middle blocker Kristen Andre (Kelseyville, Calif. / Kelseyville H.S.) and a block from sophomore middle blocker Sarah Blum (Tulsa, Okla. / Bishop Kelley H.S.) and junior setter Julie Knytych (LaGrange Park, Ill. / Lyons Township H.S.) gave UT a 22-20 advantage. The Orange and White would not relinquish the lead the rest of the way, prevailing, 30-27. UT out-hit OSU, .372-.357, in the high-powered game.
Ohio State roared through the third game, taking a 7-1 lead and not looking back in the 30-16 Buckeye victory.
The Buckeyes then took another 7-1 advantage in game four, but the Lady Vols would not go easily, battling back to within two on eight occasions, including 27-25. OSU then scored three of the final four points for the 30-26 Ohio State win.
In the fifth game, the Buckeyes would take a 10-6 lead, but Tennessee would not die and ran off the next four points to tie the score, 10-10. The Buckeyes would then pull away with five of the next seven rallies, winning, 15-12, to move on to the regional final.
Knytych had 61 assists for the Lady Vols to finish with 1,709 on the season, the second-highest total in SEC history, trailing only Jennifer Sanchez of Florida, who tallied 1,745 in 1998.
Senior outside hitter Michelle Piantadosi (Boca Raton, Fla. / Olympic Heights H.S.) tied her career high with 26 kills and hit .350 (26-5-60). Blum hit .348 (10-2-23), while freshman outside hitter Yuliya Stoyanova (Sofia, Bulgaria / 81 SOU Victor Hugo H.S.) recorded 14 kills and Andre tallied 12.
Blum was a strong presence at the net, tallying eight blocks to lead the Big Orange in that category. In the back row, junior outside hitter Amy Morris (Michigan City, Ind. / Penn State) led all Lady Vols with 22 digs. Also recording double-figure totals in digs were sophomore libero Cynthia Buggs (Compton, Calif. / Long Beach Poly H.S.) with 16, Stoyanova with 11 and sophomore defensive specialist Annie Sadowski (Wheaton, Ill. / Wheaton-Warrenville H.S.) with 10.
The senior class of Gifford and Piantadosi went out as the winningest class in school history. Their .726 winning percentage (90-34 record) surpassed the previous record held by the 1979-82 class, which had a .709 winning percentage with a 139-57 mark.
An impressive season for a team which had no players with any NCAA Tournament experience has come to an end.
"We're definitely excited about next year," Andre said. "We've already started talking about it in the locker room. This year gives us experience and motivation for next year."