LOS ANGELES — The No. 11 University of Tennessee volleyball team (5-1) dropped its first decision of the season, 3-1 to No. 14 Southern California (6-0), in front of 500 hostile fans in the championship match of the LMU/USC Hilton LAX Invitational Sunday afternoon at the Lyon Center.
"This match provided a much-needed test for our team," Tennessee coach Rob Patrick said. "Not only did it show us what we need to work on in terms of our play on the court, it also let us see that we need to play with more intensity and competitiveness."
In the loss, four Lady Vols accumulated over 10 kills, with senior Sarah Blum leading the pack with 12. Senior Kelsey Fautsch, junior Yuliya Stoyanova and sophomore Mindy Flynn had 11 kills each. A pair of freshmen, Kylie Marshall and Jena Berg, led the Lady Vols on defense with 14 and 13 digs, respectively. Blum also tallied a team-high four blocks.
"Although Yuliya's box score may not seem great, she was the backbone of our team today," Patrick said. "Her great passing and clutch hitting allowed us to play more consistently and got us out of trouble a number of times."
USC opened the match by winning the first eight points and never looked back en route to a 30-11 first-game victory. During that eight-point run, Jessica Gysin completely dominated, recording two kills and a pair of solo blocks. A timeout by Patrick stopped the bleeding somewhat, but the Lady Vols were unable to overcome the early deficit.
Senior Kelsey Fautsch was the lone bright spot for Tennessee, punching out three kills in six attempts with just one error. USC carried their momentum into the second game, jumping out to a quick four-point. The Lady Vols, playing as many as four freshmen together for long stretches of time, would fight valiantly before eventually succumbing 30-21. In the frame, Blum posted four kills in 10 total attempts without recording an error.
The Lady Vols, however, were not going down without a fight as they claimed a close, hard-fought third game, 30-28. Down 15-10, Patrick called a timeout to rally his troops and kill USC's momentum. The tactic worked, as Tennessee fought back to take its first lead of the match at 20-19. A back-and-forth battle ensued with Tennessee prevailing in the end.
Once again, the Tennessee let Southern Cal gain the early lead, going down 10-4 to start the fourth game. The Lady Vols, however, did not give up and slowly fought their way back to a 21-21 deadlock. USC then used runs of three and four points, separated by only a single Tennessee score, to win the third game, 30-22. With the victory, they also staked claim to the tournament title.
“This was a great weekend of matches for us as we got to play quite a few players and faced a couple of different styles of volleyball," Patrick said. "For the most part, we were successful at meeting the challenges that we faced."
The Lady Vols will return to competition Sept. 8-9 when they travel to Pittsburgh, Pa., for the Pitt Invitational. The Lady Vols open the tournament Saturday at 7 p.m. against host-team Pittsburgh. The following day, Tennessee will play a pair of matches, taking on defending-Conference USA champion Marshall at 10:30 a.m. and Lehigh at 5 p.m.