Dec. 1, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Just one day after earning its fourth NCAA Tournament selection in five seasons, the University of Tennessee volleyball team received some more good news on Monday as Head Coach Rob Patrick was named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and sophomore Nikki Fowler was the only unanimous selection to the All-SEC First Team.
"I am extremely excited about both of these awards," Patrick said. "I'm especially happy that the coaches around the league took notice of Nikki's play this season. For her to be the only unanimous selection to the first team says a lot about what she has accomplished this year. She has been terrific in virtually every facet of the game and I am very excited about having the opportunity to coach her for two more seasons."
Coming off SEC Freshman of the Year and All-SEC Freshman Team honors in 2007, Fowler finished the 2008 campaign ranked second in the conference with 3.80 kills per set. For the year, she leads UT in kills (408), kills/set (3.61), attacks (1082), points (471.5) and points/set (4.17). She is also second on the squad with 22 aces, third with 265 digs (2.35/set) and fourth with 76 blocks (0.67/set). Fowler has reached double-digits in kills in 21 of 31 matches, leading the team on 21 occasions. She currently ranks third in the UT career record book with 9.57 attack attempts per set and eighth with 3.44 kills per set during her two years at Rocky Top.
"I'm very humbled to be chosen the coach of the year," Patrick said. "I really see this award as a tribute to the terrific job that our entire coaching staff has done this season. I can't say enough about the jobs that Gregg Whitis, Katie Noble and Philip Bennett have done. Without them, this would not have been possible. It is also very gratifying to know that this honor comes from a group of colleagues that I respect greatly. Every single coach in the SEC is very talented, and there are a number of very deserving candidates for this award this season."
The SEC Coach of the Year award is the second of Patrick's career, as he also took home the honors following the 2004 season. Under his direction, the Lady Vols have made the third-largest turnaround in NCAA Division I, doubling their win total of 11 in 2007 to 22 in 2008. Tennessee has finished the season strong, winning 12 of its last 13 matches, including nine straight victories from Oct. 14-Nov. 9. With a 22-9 overall record, Patrick has now reached the 20-win plateau in six of his 12 seasons at Rocky Top.
Earlier this season, Patrick became UT's all-time winningest coach, claiming his 230th career victory against Auburn on Oct. 3. The Big Orange finished its SEC schedule with a 15-5 record, tying the school record for most conference victories in a season. Patrick, who has also been named the national coach of the year on two occasions, earning the distinction from CVU.com in 2004 and Volleyball Magazine in 2005, led the Lady Vols to a third-place finish in the SEC this season, marking the third time that they have finished in the top-three in the past five seasons. Tennessee finished tied with Florida for the league championship in 2004 and the 2005 squad earned a second-place finish en route to a berth in the NCAA Final Four.
The Lady Vols will return to the court this weekend when they travel to Clemson, S.C. to compete in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee is set to take on host-school Clemson at 7:00 p.m. in Jervey Gym on Fri., Dec. 5. The winner of that match will then square off with either Furman or 12th-seeded and No. 21 Utah for the right to advance to the Seattle Regional next weekend.