OMAHA, Neb. — Despite dropping a 3-0 match to No. 1 Nebraska in its season opener Friday night, Tennessee pulled out a 3-2 victory over the No. 21 University of Utah in the consolation match of the American Volleyball Coaches Association College Volleyball Showcase. The Lady Vols came from behind to earn the 10-30, 30-25, 23-30, 30-23, 18-16 triumph.
"That was a really good win for this young group,” UT head coach Rob Patrick said. “When I went in the locker room, all I could think of was how proud I was of them. These are the types of games and matches that we lost last year. When we came back in the offseason, all our team wanted was for that not to happen again.”
"We played young, and all we are going to do is get more experience,” Patrick said. “I was really impressed with (Utah’s) defense. They dug a lot more balls than I anticipated them doing because they really rely on their block, which is fantastic. For us to outblock was a huge feat. I knew we had to fight hard. I was proud of how (we) responded to getting our teeth knocked in in that first game.”
For the second day in a row, the Lady Vols set a new single-match attendance mark, as 11,076 fans viewed the contest. In addition to that record, six Lady Vols tied or set personal bests in a total of 24 categories in the victory, including junior Milan Clarke, sophomores Jena Berg, Chloe Goldman, Leah Hinkey and Farren Powe and freshman Nikki Fowler.
The Lady Vols were paced by Clarke’s 16 kills, and Fowler added 10 kills while Hinkey was the defensive star at the net, recording a match and career-high 13 blocks, the fourth-best total in Tennessee history. Setter Jena Berg ended the evening with personal-bests in assists (38) and digs (18), and libero Chloe Goldman dug-up a match and career-best 23 balls for UT.
In the first game, Utah (0-2) raced out to a quick 5-0 lead. The Utes finished the game just as hot as they started it, as they earned the final five points of the lopsided 30-10 victory.
Behind some scrappy play from the Lady Vols to begin game two, Tennessee took an early 5-0 lead. Utah regrouped, using four kills by Webb to inch back into the game, shrinking the UT lead to three (7-4).
The squads continued to battle as neither seemed to pull away, before the Lady Vols rallied for four unanswered points to take a 27-23 lead going into the final stretch, capped by a double-block by Fowler and Leah Hinkey. After a UT missed serve, Powe and Fowler rattled off consecutive slams to bring the game to a 29-25 score, and after a kill for Utah, Fowler ended the match with a kill over the top of the Utes’ blockers to earn the 30-25 game two victory.
Utah began the third game by taking a 5-1 lead, and seemed to regain the fire that it had lost in the second. With Utah ahead 20-12, the Lady Vols ignited a mini-run, highlighted by a double-block by Hinkey and Clarke and a Clarke kill, making it a five-point match (20-15), but the Utes had other plans, taking the next five points to extend their lead to 10, 25-15. UT earned eight of the next 12 points, but it was not enough firepower to overcome the deficit as Utah prevailed by a 30-23 score.
The teams continued the dredge match in the fourth game as Tennessee took an early 8-4 lead. With the score 20-16 in the Lady Vols’ favor, Webb and Robison drilled consecutive kills to inch within two, 20-18, going into the final stretch. The Utes were knocking at the door again, this time pulling within one, 22-21, thanks to a Haynie kill, but two Powe kills and a double-block by Flynn and Fowler helped push the UT lead to five, 26-21. With the score 27-23 in the Lady Vols’ favor, Clarke took over, drilling three straight kills to seal the 30-23, bringing the match to a 2-2 stalemate.
Utah opened the fifth and deciding game by scoring five of the first six points, taking a 5-1 lead on consecutive double-blocks by the front-row tandem of Webb and Baird. Tennessee did not give up, however, as the Lady Vols scored the deciding point, in the grueling 18-16 match clinching victory.
The key to Tennessee’s victory was its defense, as it recorded a total of 37 blocks and 79 digs while smashing 54 kills for a hitting percentage of .109. Utah’s high-charged offense turned in a 69-kill evening, along with 10 service aces, but only managed 19 total blocks during the match.
Tennessee will open the home portion of its slate Fri., Aug. 31, when it host Appalachian State at 7 p.m. in the first day of action at the Comcast Lady Vol Classic. Belmont, Indiana and Jacksonville State will also participate in the two-day tournament.