The game looked bleak for Tennessee until Kelsey Robinson took her game to another level.
The Lady Vols rallied from down 2-1 to a defeat of the No. 10 Iowa State Cyclones Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena, 20-25, 26-24, 19-25, 25-20, 15-4.
Robinson, the defending SEC Player of the Year, racked up 29 kills, 14 digs and 6 aces, evoking Michael Jordan comparisons from head coach Rob Patrick.
"I've told Kelsey since she's got here that we're going to be great when she leads the team," Patrick said. "She's like Michael Jordan. She has a huge effect on the team. It's something that I'm really proud of her because we're asking a lot out of her. She does everything and then on top of that we ask her to be a great leader. I can't say enough good things about how she's been able to handle that."
In the decisive 5th set, Robinson dominated, tallying 5 kills and 3 service aces en route to a 15-4 blowout.
"I definitely was in a zone," Robinson said. "Mary (Pollmiller) got me in a flow early in game two and once I got that momentum it helped me get in a rhythm. My mindset was just to win every point."
The match was played as a part of the Comcast Lady Vol Classic, the only preseason tournament to feature three top-15 squads. Robinson and junior libero Ellen Mullins were named to the All-Tournament team.
On Friday night, Tennessee lost to eventual champion Florida State in three sets, 27-25, 25-15, 25-21. 17 service errors were largely what kept the Lady Vols from contending with the No. 12 Seminoles, a Final Four team a year ago. The loss marked the first time Tennessee has lost a home opener since 1978 and matched their season home loss total from 2011.
"A lot of our players are using new serves than what they used previously and they're still getting comfortable with that," Patrick said. "We had a staff meeting and we asked if we were willing to lose a match to implement this and the answer was yes. We didn't want to lose and when the ball was in play, we played pretty even with Florida State. We just didn't get it in enough.
"If we would have gotten our serves in, it would have been a different match. I'm not saying we would have won, but it would have been different."
Saturday morning, the Lady Vols bounced back against Cincinnati, defeating the Bearcats in four sets, 25-12, 23-25, 25-19, 25-14. Three players amassed double-digit kills for Tennessee signaling a balanced attack.
"We have a vision for this season and we want to build this team towards that vision," Patrick said. We're using every match this year to get closer to that vision and we did. There's a bigger picture than just one match that we're working towards and the kids know that."
Tennessee finished the tournament in 2nd place and will go on the road to Wichita, Kan., next weekend to face Colorado State, BYU and Wichita State as a part of the Shocker Volleyball Classic.