In front of 10,158 fans, the largest crowd ever to see a Tennessee volleyball team play, the Lady Vols dropped a hard-fought decision to No. 1 Nebraska Friday night at the American Volleyball Coaches Association Showcase in Omaha, Neb., 15-30, 19-30, 18-30. Sophomore Farren Powe displayed the tremendous improvement she made during the off-season, pounding out a career-high nine kills against the Huskers.
“Nebraska played a very nice match,” UT head coach Rob Patrick said. “Their experience really showed. They just played a little smoother than we did. You could tell that a lot of their players have played together for a long time, and they played like a defending national champion.”
“I saw glimpses of some really good things with our team, but we weren’t able to sustain them,” Patrick said. “We are going to chalk this match up as a chance to test ourselves against one of the top two or three teams in the country, get back in the gym and get a lot better. I was very encouraged with the fact that I saw glimpses of some things that say we can be very successful this season.”
In addition to her team-high nine kills, Powe finished the contest with a career-high .571 hitting percentage. Finishing just behind Powe in the kills category was junior Milan Clarke who posted eight of her own, while sophomore Leah Hinkey and senior Yuliya Stoyanova added six each to aid the Lady Vols’ cause.
In her first start at the setter position, sophomore Jena Berg totaled 29 assists and a team-best nine digs. Fellow classmate Chloe Goldman was in a similar situation, starting at libero for the first time, and responded just as well with eight digs. Junior Mindy Flynn paced the team in blocks with four while freshman Nikki Fowler sent back two Husker attacks in her collegiate debut.
Nebraska wasted little time showing why it is the favorite to repeat its national championship this season, as the team won the first four points of the match. Following a timeout by Patrick to steady his players, Clarke tallied the first score of the season for the Lady Vols, blasting a cross-court shot that ricocheted off the Husker block and onto the court.
Stoyanova followed by splitting the Husker block with a hard shot down the center of the court to move the score to 4-2. Unfortunately for Tennessee fans, that was as close as the Lady Vols would get in the frame as Nebraska continued its assault by winning 10 of the next 12 points and hitting .516 (17-1-31) en route to a 30-15 win.
The second set failed to be better for UT as Nebraska claimed a 2-0 lead in the match with a 30-19 victory. The Lady Vols were able to keep the score close early, using a three-point streak to pull even at five a piece. The two teams traded the next seven points before the Huskers moved back up 13-9. Another Patrick timeout generated two quick Tennessee scores, including a smash by Clarke that fell wide off the block. Nebraska was unstoppable after that, however, winning the following nine points and 15 of the next 18.
The third and final frame also went to Nebraska, 30-18, despite an early run by Tennessee. Out of the break, the Lady Vols grabbed their first lead of the match on the opening play of the set with a smash by Powe. Nebraska countered with a pair of scores, but the Lady Vols fought back with three consecutive points. Powe added another kill to tie the frame at two, before Flynn sent a Husker attack back over the net with a sharp solo block.
An attack error by Nebraska senior and 2006 AVCA National Player of the Year Sarah Pavan then gave UT its biggest lead of the contest at 4-2. Once again, however, the Huskers had the answer and responded with five straight scores of their own. Tennessee was able to keep the score close throughout most of the frame, but Nebraska finished off the contest by winning seven of the final 10 points.
The previous record for attendance at a match involving UT volleyball was 7,931 set Dec. 15, 2005, when the Lady Vols faced No. 3 Washington in San Antonio, Tex., at the NCAA Final Four.