"Meanwhile in Mississippi...." Raina Hembry, middle blocker for the Lady Vols volleyball team, tweeted Saturday. The ambiguous tweet summed up an unfortunate weekend for her team — a weekend that made the near six-hour drive from Starkville, Miss., back to Knoxville seem much longer.
The road the Lady Vols have traveled this season so far consists of an 8-13 overall record and a 0-7 mark in SEC play.
The Lady Vols' weekend at Ole Miss on Friday and Mississippi State on Sunday was no different. Ole Miss, the first of the Lady Vols' Mississippi opponents this weekend, defeated Tennessee 3-1, while Mississippi State ended the weekend in a 3-0 sweep over UT.
But head coach Rob Patrick believed the team was improving. And he still does."We took a little bit of a step back" Patrick said. "We've actually been playing better in our practices and in our last couple of matches. For some reason we made a few more unforced errors than we had over the past couple weeks, and that hurt us (Sunday)."
Senior Whitney Heeres led the team with a career-best 14 kills on Friday. Meanwhile, freshman Ashley Mariani had 10 kills, sophomore Lexi Dempsey dished out 38 assists, and Ellen Mullins scooped up 15 digs.
However, later in the match, the Lady Vols began to suffer from sloppy play.
"During the course of the match, we couldn't play clean enough to put a lot of pressure on Mississippi. And they took advantage of that," Patrick said. "It was a little disappointing that the match for us was on our side of the net. We really could have done a little bit better on our side of the net."
Though the Lady Vols met the same fate in Starkville, Miss., on Sunday, sophomore Lexi Dempsey recorded an SEC-leading 13th double-double.
Heeres led the team once again with nine kills against the Bulldogs."Whitney did a nice job hitting on the outside and got some nice kills for us, especially in sideout play, Patrick said. "She's getting stronger and her arm is getting stronger so we're excited about her development."
Meanwhile, juniors Carly Wishlow and Shealyn Kolosky each tallied seven kills, while freshman Raina Hembry, hitting the team-best .333 mark, slammed six kills.Though Tennessee lost in three sets, the match was hard-fought on both sides of the net from the beginning.
However, after the 26-24 defeat during the first game, the Lady Vols then lost 25-16 in the second match and 25-17 in the last match on Sunday.Patrick has a plan to get the former SEC-powerhouse team back to gaining momentum.
"We'll get back in the gym and we'll clean up some of the unforced errors, and if we do that, I think we'll be okay," Patrick said.
The Lady Vols will need all the momentum they can collect as they continue SEC play on the road this weekend.
Tennessee takes on South Carolina in Columbia on Friday, followed by a Sunday match against Florida in Gainesville.The Gamecocks, who are ranked 113 in the RPI, will enter Friday's contest with a modest 11-9 record, but boast a 7-3 record on their home floor.Sunday's contest against the Gators, however, will be a different animal.
On paper, the matchup could be UT's toughest of the season as Florida currently ranks No. 5 in the AVCA Coaches Poll.
The Gators are led by a potent offense that is second in the nation in kills per set (15.17) and hitting percentage (.336).The Lady Vols first chance to break their winless conference start begins at 7 p.m. Friday. Their Sunday match starts at 1:30 p.m.