Seemingly on the verge of victory after taking the first two games, the Lady Vol volleyball team suffered a stinging 3-2 defeat to Cincinnati at the Florida Volleyball Challenge in Orlando on Saturday afternoon.
Tennessee fell by a 15-5, 15-9, 5-15, 3-15 and 5-15 count to the Bearcats. Head coach Rob Patrick's squad finishes its regular season at 23-9.
Tennessee cruised to a 2-0 lead by scores of 15-5 and 15-9 before the Bearcats clawed out a 15-5 win in the third frame. Continuing its momentum, Cincinnati squared the match at two games apiece with a 15-3 conquest of the Lady Vols and then completed its stirring comeback with a 15-5 rout in rally scoring.
First team All-SEC performer Ariana Wilson was a one-woman wrecking crew in the opening stanza. The junior from Cincinnati, Ohio, recorded nine kills and a whopping .692 hitting percentage as the Lady Vols strung together nine consecutive points to turn a 4-4 stalemate into a 13-4 advantage.
Trailing 6-1 in game two, UT went on a 14-3 tear to surprise Cincinnati and put the Bearcats on the verge of defeat. The duo of Wilson (five kills, 11 attacks .364) and sophomore Kelli Scott (four kills, 10 attacks, .400) were the keys to UT's dominance, as sophomore Janelle Hester tacked on five blocks and three kills.
Not content to roll over, the Cats built cushions of 6-1 and 13-3 before getting on the scoreboard with a 15-5 win in the third frame. Senior outside hitter Shauntel Miller registered five kills and three blocks to spearhead the UC attack, while the Lady Vols struggled to a -.053 hitting percentage.
One bright spot in the setback was Erica Lear passing Molly Mooney to become the Lady Vols' single-season leader in assists. Mooney's standard of 1,465 was established in 1993.
The Bearcats rolled to a 15-3 dismantling of Tennessee to knot the match at two games apiece. Sophomore Bonita Wise had five kills and a staggering .833 percentage to lead UC's attack, with both Stephanie Meinig and Leslie Newell chipping in with three kills apiece. Tennessee hit a mere .024 and watched helplessly as Cincinnati reeled off 12 points in a row to earn the win.
With rally scoring in effect for the fifth game, UC would put up the first seven points before UT even cracked the scoring column. Down by a 7-2 margin, Tennessee could not stop UC from forging ahead to an 11-2 lead en route to a 15-5 victory that clinched the dramatic win.
The NCAA announced the 64-team field for the tournament on Sunday night at 8 p.m. Results were not available at press time.
Tennessee is seeking its sixth appearance in school history and the first in the Patrick era. The Lady Vols advanced to NCAA action four straight times from 1981-84 but have not made it to the Big Dance since a second-round showing in 1993 under coach Julie Hermann.