Already off to its best start in 25 years, the University of Tennessee volleyball team took its 12-2 record in to Columbia, S.C., hoping to extend its winning streak to seven straight matches on Sunday.
But it was not to be, as the Gamecocks of South Carolina dealt the Lady Vols their first Southeastern Conference loss of the season, a 3-0 setback.
Head coach Rob Patrick's squad came off a five-day break since their last match, and it seemed to be too much for the team, as South Carolina opened up a 13-0 lead before UT scored its first point of the match on a Trinia Cuseo kill off an Erica Lear assist. Tennessee went on to drop the first frame, 15-3.
The Lady Vols charged out to an 8-2 lead in the second game behind strong play from the front line of Lear, Cuseo and junior outside hitter Ariana Wilson. The three combined for eight of Tennessee's 12 kills in the frame. The Gamecocks would rally, coming back from the six-point deficit to knot the game at eight and then pull ahead on a service ace from Megan Hosp. Sophomore Jennifer Elliott retaliated with an ace of her own, knotting the game once again, but the Lady Vols could not sustain the service and the Gamecocks surged ahead 14-9. UT attempted another comeback, scoring two points on Lear's next service, but fell short in the end as USC took the second frame, 15-11.
In the third game UT improved its hitting to .275 as sophomore middle blocker Janelle Hester rebounded from a slow start, tallying six of her seven total kills in the third frame. Tennessee held the lead at 5-3 before South Carolina tied the final game at five. The Gamecocks tool control from there, taking the game and the match by a score of 15-7.
The Lady Vols fall to 12-3, 2-1 in SEC play, while South Carolina improves to 13-3 overall, 4-0 in the conference.
Wilson had a team-high nine kills on the afternoon, while junior outside hitter Andrea Peterson posted eight digs for the Lady Vols. Cuseo had another strong match, leading the team in hitting as she recorded a .500 hitting percentage on eight kills and two blocks.
Patrick's squad will return to the road in the SEC on Friday as it travels to Fayetteville, Ark., for a meeting with the Lady Razorbacks of Arkansas. The road trip continues on Sunday in Baton Rouge, La., with a match against the Tigers of Louisiana State University.