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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Behind the strength of three double-doubles and 37 digs from sophomore Chloe Goldman, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (8-8, 3-6 Southeastern Conference) snapped a five-match winless streak with a thrilling, five-game victory over No. 18 LSU (15-3, 7-2 SEC), 30-28, 24-30, 30-24, 29-31, 16-14, Friday night at Stokely Athletics Center.
“The first thing I want to say is how proud I am of this team,” UT head coach Rob Patrick said. “They have been practicing extremely hard and trying to do the right things in practice to play more consistently. We were finally able to put everything together tonight.
“The other thing that was good to see was that LSU played great volleyball,” Patrick said. “This match was played at as high of a level as you will see in college. I was not only happy to see us beat a top-20 team, but to beat a top-20 team that was playing very well.
“One thing that I impressed upon our team before this match is what Tennessee volleyball is all about,” Patrick said. “We have a tradition that we need to uphold, so I had them watch our 2004 SEC Tournament Championship game against Florida to show them how great teams play. I thought they did a terrific job of understanding the message and taking the first step in returning to that level.”
With 37 digs in the victory, Goldman established the second-highest single-match total in UT history. Only Amy Morris ranks above her, with 42 digs against Notre Dame on Nov. 26, 2005. Her previous career-high had been 28 at Georgia earlier this season.
“I am really proud of Chloe for becoming more consistent in her positioning and digging as the match progressed,” Patrick said. “She was a little out of position early, but she kept plugging away. Her play allowed us to have more attempts offensively, which we needed in order to be successful against LSU.”
Other than Goldman’s effort, four different Lady Vols either tied or set new career highs in the win. Freshman Nikki Fowler and sophomores Jena Berg and Kylie Marshall each posted double-doubles as well. A 6-2 right-side hitter, Fowler recorded a team-high 20 kills on a personal-best 51 swings, in addition to racking up 12 digs, for the fifth double-double of her young career. Berg meanwhile, paced the Big Orange attack with a career-high 61 assists, while digging up 14 LSU attacks for her 11th double-double.
“I was really impressed with Jena’s setting tonight,” Patrick said. “She has been taking in a tremendous amount of information during her first year as our starting setter. It can be very difficult to think and play at the same time, while also being looked at to be a leader. Everything is beginning to come together for her.”
A native of Puyallup, Wash., Marshall rounded out the squad’s effort by tying her personal-best with 11 kills and finishing second on the team with 15 digs. The double-double is her first of the season and second of her career, as she also accomplished the feat with 11 kills and 17 digs against Auburn in the last regular-season match of the 2006 season.
“Kylie was the unsung hero in our win tonight,” Patrick said. “Her impact on this team is not always found on the stat sheet. She is becoming one of our most consistent hitters and has been rock-solid, both passing and playing defense for us.”
Despite never leading by more than two points, the Lady Vols were able to strike the first blow in the match, winning a back-and-forth affair in the first stanza, 30-28. LSU looked strong early, jumping ahead 5-1 right out of the gate. Tennessee was undeterred, however, quickly fighting back to even the score at five each. Neither team was able to gain much of an advantage for the rest of the frame, as is evident by the fact that there were 18 tie scores and nine lead changes.
With the score deadlocked at 27-all, the Big Orange dug deep for a pair of scores on a kill by junior Milan Clarke and a double-block by Clarke and sophomore Farren Powe. The Tigers fought off UT’s first attempt at game-point, but a Fowler smash sealed the deal.
The second-game was a bit more one-sided, as LSU tied the contest with a 30-24 victory. With the score at 7-6 in their favor, the Tigers proceeded to take complete control, winning 13 of the next 16 points, to open up a 19-9 advantage. The Lady Vols continued to fight though, and were able to claw their way back to within striking distance at 23-18.
Once again, LSU pulled away, utilizing a pair of kills and a UT attack error. Tennessee made one more run, getting kills from Fowler and Clarke and a block by Fowler and Powe, to cut the deficit to five at 22-27. That would be as close as it would get, however, with the Tigers scoring on four of the next six plays to even the score as the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms for intermission.
Fowler and sophomore Leah Hinkey led the Orange and White to a 30-24 triumph in game three, as the two players combined for .435 hitting percentage during the frame with 11 kills and just one error on 23 swings between them. Fowler had six of those putaways, while Hinkey had five. Early on, it looked like LSU had been able to carry the momentum over from its game-two win, as it went up 9-5 in a hurry.
They were not able to sustain that success, however, as UT cut the deficit to two at 9-11 before a five-point run gave it a lead it would never relinquish. Two Fowler blasts sparked the spree that also featured a kill by Hinkey and a pair of blocks. The Big Orange continued to extend its advantage until it led 27-22. At that point, LSU strung together three consecutive scores to put a brief scare into the Lady Vol faithful. It was short-lived, however, as a Berg tip, a Tiger attack error and a Marshall service ace ended the frame.
LSU was able to withstand a late rally by UT and send the match to a deciding game with a hard-fought 31-29 win in the fourth set. Trailing by as many as seven at 18-25, the Lady Vols looked to be down and out. They showed their true character, however, rattling off six straight scores to shrink the lead to just a point at 24-25. During that span, Fowler, Powe and Marshall each sent kills crashing to the floor.
After LSU returned its advantage to three at 27-24, the Orange and White went on another run, this time tying the score, with a kill by Fowler, and back-to-back double-blocks by Hinkey and Fowler and Marshall and Hinkey. The two teams then battled to 29-all before LSU sophomore Lauren DeGirolamo recorded one of her 21 kills in the contest to give her team an opportunity to send the match to a fifth and final game. With Marina Skender serving, that is exactly what occurred as Tennessee was docked a point for lining up out of rotation.
With the match all square at two games each, an absolute battle ensued between the Lady Vols and the Fighting Tigers. Tennessee drew first blood with an emphatic kill by Powe. LSU was able to patch the wound, however, and fought back to a 6-6 tie, when the Tigers looked to have struck a deadly blow of their own. Consecutive kills and a sharp, solo block by Kyna Washington gave LSU its first lead of the game, which it eventually turned into a 13-11 advantage.
The SEC Western Division leader looked as if it was well on its way to its 16th win of the season, but the Big Orange was not dead yet. Picking itself up off the mat, UT capitalized on two key LSU miscues and got a powerful block by Marshall and Hinkey to pull ahead 14-13. A Skender kill evened the score, but it proved to be only a bump in the road to victory as another Tiger mistake and a Marshall service ace iced the match.
The victory is Tennessee’s second of the season over a ranked opponent, as it also defeated No. 21 Utah on Aug. 25, at the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase in Omaha, Neb.
The Big Orange will look to build on this triumph on Sunday, Oct. 14, when Ole Miss makes the trip to Rocky Top. First serve for the contest against the Rebels is set for 1:30 p.m. in Stokely Athletics Center.