OXFORD, Miss. — The No. 17 Tennessee volleyball team (11-2, 2-1 SEC) extended its winning streak against Mississippi (8-5, 0-3 SEC) to No. 13 with a four-game victory at Gillom Sports Center on Friday night.
“This was a very high level match,” Tennessee coach Rob Patrick said. “Mississippi forced us to play at a very high level, and when we faltered, they took advantage and capitalized with their aggressive play.”
A number of Lady Vols either set or matched career highs in the win. Tennessee was led by Annie Sadowski’s career-high 21 digs and Mindy Flynn’s career-high eight blocks.
“We have a huge target on our backs due to our success the previous two seasons,” Patrick said. “Every team is giving us their best shot, and I am very proud of how our team has responded to those challenges so far this year.”
Other statistical standouts for the Lady Vols included seniors Sarah Blum, Kelsey Fautsch, and Yuliya Stoyanova. Blum led the Tennessee effort with a match-high 20 kills and nine blocks. Fautsch set a record double-digit kill totals in nine straight matches after knocking out 17 in the win while Stoyanova fell just shy of her sixth consecutive double-double with 19 kills and eight digs.
“Our middle hitters, Sarah and Leah, played a very consistent match offensively, which allowed us to open up our offense,” Patrick said. “Their play gave Yuliya and Kelsey seams to hit at.”
The Lady Vols used a late run to move past the Rebels in the opening frame by a score of 30-27. Down 24-25, Tennessee proceeded to win six of the final eight points en route to gaining the one-game advantage.
Blum took over in the middle of the second game and propelled Tennessee to a 30-26 victory in the set. Ole Miss did not give up, however, and fought back to tie the game at 15. Blum showcased her offensive skills, collecting four kills in the next 15 points to move her team back up five, 25-20. After a Rebel kill, the two teams traded the final nine points of the frame to account for the final score.
In the third game, the Lady Vols were unable to overcome a strong Ole Miss effort, dropping the set 30-24. It looked to be all Tennessee early, but that advantage quickly disappeared after the Rebels won six of the next eight scores to tie the game at eight each. A back-and-forth battle ensued with Ole Miss emerging with the 23-20 lead. Consecutive kills from Blum trimmed the advantage to just one, but the Rebels answered with five straight points of their own to put the game out of reach.
Tennessee quickly seized the momentum back from Ole Miss at the beginning of the fourth game. The Lady Vols continued to put the pressure on the Rebels as they extended that lead with runs of three and four points to go up 18-8 before the home team tried to halt the scoring spree by using its final timeout. The tactic did not work as another four-point streak, highlighted by three consecutive Blum blocks, gave Tennessee a 12-point lead. The Lady Vols were able to hold off the attack and win the final set, 30-23, improving to 1-0 in SEC play.