Box Score | Box Score (PDF) | Photo GalleryKNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee volleyball team (9-16, 4-13 Southeastern Conference) could never get on track, as it dropped a three-game decision to the No. 8-ranked University of Florida (23-1, 16-1 SEC), 30-20, 30-18, 30-27, Friday night at Stokely Athletics Center in Knoxville, Tenn. Freshman Nikki Fowler was the lone Lady Vol to reach double-digits in kills during the contest, pounding out 10, while collecting eight digs as well.
“I thought we played hard today, but we made the match more difficult for ourselves because we were undisciplined defensively,” UT head coach Rob Patrick said. “I was proud of the way our hitters were able to get their feet to the ball and take some big swings, but our offense is still only running at about half of its efficiency.”
“Nikki did a great job of taking some big, aggressive swings from the back row tonight,” Patrick said. “That was the most aggressive that I’ve seen her play. As great as she has been all year, this match shows that she has only beginning to reach her full potential.”
Sophomore Leah Hinkey also put forth a solid offensive performance, hitting at a team-high .333 clip with nine kills and just two errors in 21 attacks. She recorded a squad-best three blocks as well. With a .316 hitting percentage (7-1-19) senior Yuliya Stoyanova had her most efficient night in nearly a month. Sophomore Jena Berg, meanwhile, tallied her 14th double-double of the season with 29 assists and 12 digs.
The Gators took hold of the initial game early on and never let loose, claiming the game 30-20. After a smash by Hinkey knotted the score at 6-6, Florida took off on a six-point spree to take a lead it would never relinquish. The Orange and White kept fighting though, eventually cutting the UF advantage to three at 16-13 on another kill by Hinkey. The Gators answered right back, however, with three consecutive scores. Shortly thereafter, with the scoreboard reading 22-17 in favor of Florida, the Gators effectively ended the frame with a five-point run that put them up by double-digits.
Florida kept rolling in the second set, never trailing en route to a 30-18 victory and two games to one advantage. Before the Lady Vols even knew what hit them, they were facing a six-point deficit after the Gators jumped ahead 8-2 in almost no time at all. The UF advantage continued to steadily increase as it kept Tennessee from stringing together more than two scores at any one point for the entire game. The Big Orange fought off two attempts at game point with Stoyanova and Fowler smashing out kills, but a Lauren Bledsoe kill ended all hopes of a comeback and sent UT into the locker room down by two sets.
The two squads engaged in a hard-fought battle in game three, but Florida emerged triumphant once again, claiming the set 30-27 and the match three games to none. Neither team was able to take much of a lead early on as they traded the first 12 points and reached a 6-6 deadlock. Over the next nine plays, Florida earned points on six to go up 12-9. The Lady Vols refused to give up, however, knotting the score up once again with a trio of scores, including a strong block by Stoyanova and sophomore Farren Powe and yet another kill by Hinkey.
From that point on, the Gators slowly but surely pulled away until a scores on three consecutive plays put them up by six at 26-20. Once again, UT kept grinding away until back-to-back putaways by Fowler and Powe cut the Florida advantage to three at 28-25 and forced UF head coach Mary Wise to burn her first timeout of the day. Straight out of the break, Gator setter Angie McGinnis fooled the Orange and White defense by tipping one over the net for a kill to give her team four chances at match point. Florida’s first two attempts were denied as McGinnis served one into the net and Fowler recorded her 10th kill of the night. That would be the end of the comeback, however, as a UT attack error ended the contest.
The Orange and White will look to rebound Sunday afternoon when South Carolina makes the trip to Knoxville. First serve for the match against the Gamecocks is set for 1:30 p.m.