Same teams, different outcome.
The Lady Vols volleyball team fell to Alabama in four games Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., marking UT’s fourth loss in six matches away from Stokely Athletics Center.
Despite losing only two players from last year’s team, which made the NCAA Sweet 16 and won the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Tennessee (11-7, 5-3 SEC) lost once again to a team it easily defeated last season.
In 2004, UT knocked off the Crimson Tide in four games in the middle of a 13-game road winning streak. This year, the road has been particularly cruel for the Lady Vols, who lost Sept. 28 at Louisville and were swept by Florida Oct. 7.
Upstart Alabama (18-3, 6-2) won 30-23, 24-30, 30-28, 31-29 to drop Tennessee into a tie for second in the SEC East with Kentucky (12-6, 5-3) and three games behind first-place Florida (18-1, 8-0).
“I thought we tried to fight hard through the match even though we weren’t playing our best volleyball, and the thing that hurt us the most is that Alabama won all the big points,” Tennessee coach Rob Patrick said.
Thankfully for Tennessee, the match marked the end of a grueling portion of the road schedule for the Lady Vols, who have played 13 of their last 18 matches on the road. Only two away matches remain for Tennessee in the regular season — Oct. 26 at South Carolina and Nov. 6 at Kentucky. The SEC Tournament will be played at Alabama.
In Sunday’s contest, junior middle blocker Sarah Blum hit. 423 to lead the Lady Vols, while senior middle blocker Kristen Andre hit .259. Sophomore outside hitter Yuliya Stoyanova led the Lady Vols with 15 kills. Senior setter Julie Knytych had 49 assists.
Senior libero Amy Morris recorded her second-highest dig total of the year and 15th-highest in Lady Vol history (27), while three other Lady Vols had double-digit totals in digs as well. Freshman defensive specialist Chelsea Noble tallied 15, Knytych had 13 and Stoyanova recorded 10.
In the first game of the match, Alabama took the lead with the first two points and only relinquished it once, when UT tied the game, 3-3. After the Crimson Tide took a 23-17 edge, the Lady Vols rallied with the next four points and a slim 23-21 deficit, but that was as close as UT would get.
Tennessee made sure that the second game went the opposite way, scoring on the first rally and not allowing Alabama to take the lead. UT ‘s largest edge of eight came at 23-15.
The third game turned into a back-and-forth battle with six lead changes. Tennessee took its largest lead of four at 12-8. At game point (29-26), the Lady Vols scored twice to come within one at 29-28 before falling, 30-28.
The teams were close in the early going of the fourth game as the squads traded leads three times and the score was tied six times. Tennessee pulled out to a 16-10 lead on the strength of a 6-1 run. Its advantage went to as high as eight on two occasions (21-13 and 26-18) before Alabama rallied back. With the score 29-24, the Crimson Tide scored the final seven points of the contest for the 31-29 win.