Box Score| Box Score (PDF)KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Despite another strong performance by freshman Nikki Fowler, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (5-3, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) dropped a three-game decision to the University of Alabama (4-6, 1-0 SEC) Friday night at Stokely Athletics Center. The 6-2 right side hitter posted her first career double-double, tying her career highs in both kills and digs, with 17 and 11, respectively.
“This is a difficult loss to take,” UT head coach Rob Patrick said. “I thought we were well prepared for the match, but we did not execute the way we have been in practice. Alabama did a really good job of taking advantage of that lack of execution. We passed well and gave ourselves opportunities in serve receive, but I was disappointed in our transition play. It’s hard to ride on the shoulders of a freshman, but Nikki (Fowler) did a great job of carrying us through some inconsistent play.”
In addition to Fowler’s solid offensive match, sophomore Leah Hinkey hit at a squad-best .308 clip with 11 kills and just three errors in 26 swings. On defense, second-year libero Chloe Goldman dug up a team-high 16 Crimson Tide attacks, while fellow classmate Jena Berg added her fourth double-double of the season with 44 assists and 13 digs.
The opening frame of action got off to a good start for the Big Orange, as it jumped out to an early 3-1 lead behind a Mindy Flynn putaway and a pair of kills by sophomore Farren Powe. Alabama quickly tied it up 3-3, however, and the two teams proceeded to trade the next eight points to move the score to 7-7, before UT got rolling once again. With a smash by Hinkey and a pair of miscues by the Tide, the Orange and White extended its lead to three. Tennessee continued to keep the pressure on and built its largest lead of the match at 14-9. At that point, Alabama began its comeback, eventually tying the frame at 17-all on a kill by Bridget Fuentez. Both teams continued to battle until reaching a deadlock at 30-30.
With neither team ready to budge, fans in attendance were treated to bonus volleyball. The Lady Vols were the first to strike, gaining the 31-30 advantage on a sharp block by Flynn and Powe. An incredible rally ensued on the next play with Alabama eventually earning the point on a UT attack error. Five plays later, with the score still tied, 2006 AVCA Honorable Mention All-American and All-SEC First Team member Crystal Hudson took over, pounding out consecutive kills to give her team the 35-33 victory.
The back-and-forth battle continued in the second set, but the outcome remained the same for Tennessee, which fell 30-25 and headed into the locker room with a two-game deficit. With the score knotted up at 13-13, Alabama embarked on a three-point run to take a lead which it would never relinquish. The Big Orange was able to cut the UA advantage to one on four different occasions, but could never quite overcome it before the Tide strung together three consecutive scores once again to put the set out of reach. Sophomore Jaye Loyd provided a bright spot for UT, as she collected six of her nine total digs in the frame.
In the third game, Alabama thundered out to a 4-0 lead and never looked back en route to a 30-21 win. Down 17-10, the Orange and White rattled off four straight points to shrink the margin to three at 17-14. Later in the set, trailing 23-18, Tennessee rallied with a kill by Fowler and back-to-back miscues by the Tide to pull within two. Alabama head coach Judy Green called a timeout to put the brakes on the Lady Vol surge. The tactic worked, as UA claimed the final seven points to win the game and earn its first league victory of the season.
The Big Orange will look to rebound this Sunday when Mississippi State makes the trip to Rocky Top. First serve is set for 1:30 p.m. at Stokely Athletics Center.