The Tennessee volleyball team continued their struggle against SEC opponents this weekend, falling to 1-13 in the conference as senior Ellen Mullins inched even closer to Volunteer history.
The Lady Vols entered the weekend hoping to end their six-game conference losing streak against two mid-level SEC squads, Texas A&M and LSU.
Mullins entered the weekend trailing Chloe Goldman by just 52 digs for the title of all-time digs leader in UT history.
The weekend began with Tennessee traveling to College Station, Texas, to take on the SEC newcomers, Texas A&M. The Aggies proved to be too much for the inexperienced Lady Vols as UT dropped the match in straight sets.
Aggie setter Allie Sawatsky orchestrated a potent attack with 29 assists. She also added a match-high 12 kills in her SEC-leading 17th double-double of the season.
UT returned home to Knoxville to take on the LSU Tigers on a drizzly Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps the rain was just what the team needed. The Lady Vols played inspired volleyball, throwing their bodies around and scoring timely blocks while taking two of the first three sets from the Tigers.
"Our blockers did a fantastic job getting in the right spots, making their really good hitters hit shots they did not want to hit or with two blockers in their face, so I was really happy how well-organized that was," said head coach Rob Patrick after Sunday's loss to LSU.
Though the team failed to snap its torrid losing streak, the tone from Patrick and others players during post-game interviews was noticeably optimistic.
"You have to acknowledge progress, and we definitely have made progress throughout the season, and blocking is one thing our middles and outside hitters have been working on," said sophomore setter Lexi Dempsey, who recorded 43 assists in Sunday's loss.
Mullins finished the weekend just 10 digs shy of Goldman's all-time record of 1,755, and is just 50 digs from the UT's single-season digs record, also held by Goldman.
After Sunday's loss, Mullins praised the work ethic of her teammates as well as discussed her personal success.
"We just really competed against LSU in that first set and made them make some errors that they probably usually don't make," Mullins said. "We just played and gutted it out, and it was like the best we've played pretty much all season."
Patrick was quick to shower praise on his senior.
"She's an embodiment of what Tennessee volleyball is about. Period," Patrick said. "She has been somebody who has bought into what we do, gives 100 percent every single day, and really carries the torch of Tennessee volleyball the right way."
With just four matches remaining for the Lady Vols, the team has an opportunity to play spoiler as they take on the No. 7 Florida Gators tonight at 5:30 pm in Thompson-Boling Arena. The Gators enter the match with a sparkling 24-3 record.
ESPNU will televise the match.