LEXINGTON, Ky. (UTLadyVols.com) – Despite a strong effort, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (7-5, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) dropped a hard-fought, four-game decision to Kentucky (13-3, 4-1 SEC), 28-30, 28-30, 30-22, 24-30, Wednesday night at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky. Sophomore Farren Powe tied her career high with 14 kills in the defeat, while freshman Nikki Fowler collected a personal-best 15 digs.
“This is another disappointing loss,” UT head coach Rob Patrick said. “I felt that we did a good job of carrying out the game plan, but we made too many unforced errors at the wrong times that allowed Kentucky to close some leads in games one and two. We had some opportunities to extend some of those leads and we lost momentum with both hitting and ball-control errors.
“As a whole, I was happy with our passing and serve receive and we are getting better in our blocking game,” Patrick said. “The next two items that we will address in our practices will be our transition offense and out-of-system plays. One good thing about these players is that they are very coachable and they improve on the things we work on in practice."
A pair of statistical streaks continued in spite of the loss, as sophomore Jena Berg recorded her sixth straight double-double with 46 assists and 18 digs, and fellow second-year Lady Vol Chloe Goldman tallied a team-best 19 digs to lead the squad for the 11th contest in a row.
Fowler and sophomore Leah Hinkey joined Powe with double-digits in kills with 12 and 10, respectively. Hinkey led the team in blocks as well with six, while junior Mindy Flynn and Fowler added five each. Sophomore Kylie Marshall also put together a solid offensive match with season-highs in both kills (7) and attacks (33).
Despite leading for most of the initial frame, the Lady Vols were unable to close it out, dropping the final three points and the game, 28-30. After falling behind by as many as four early in the set, UT found itself trailing 11-13 following a kill by Kentucky’s Brooke Bartek. The Big Orange did not give up, however, answering with seven straight points. Marshall sparked the spree with a shot that landed wide off the UK block before Hinkey and Fowler combined to send back a Wildcat attack. After another Marshall kill and consecutive Kentucky errors, Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner attempted to halt the momentum with his first timeout of the match. The Lady Vols kept rolling though and took an 18-13 lead with a Fowler slam from the right side and a block by Hinkey and Fowler.
Kentucky failed to fold as well, however, slowly climbing back into the set until another Bartek kill fell wide off the UT block to end a three-point Wildcat run and cut the lead to 21-20. A Patrick timeout yielded a Lady Vol score, but UK rallied for four straight points to take a 24-22 advantage. In a testament to the heart of the Orange and White, it answered with its own four-point spree, sparked by a Powe blast that traveled cross-court to the back-right corner. A Kentucky miscue followed, before a Berg ace and a block by Flynn and Fowler closed out the run. With the score now at 26-24 in favor of UT, the two teams traded the next three points. Consecutive scores by UK tied the game, but Fowler gave the lead back to her squad with another smash from the right-side of the net. Kentucky had the last word, however, rallying for the final three points of the set to take it 30-28.
In the second game, Tennessee could not hold on to a late lead once again, falling 28-30 for the second straight set. With the score tied early on at 8-8, the Big Orange used a streak in which it won seven of eight points to jump ahead 15-9. During that run, the Lady Vols scored on five straight plays, getting a kill from Flynn, two from Powe and a solo block by Berg. Kentucky came right back, though, with three consecutive points of its own to move the score to a 15-12 tally. Later in the set with UT leading by five at 21-16, the Wildcats were able to quickly erase their entire deficit, rallying for five points in a row. Patrick’s second timeout of the frame stopped the momentum and allowed his squad to regain the lead with back-to-back points from Hinkey in the form of a kill and an ace. After trading the following two scores, UK was able to move back ahead, this time for good, with a four-score spree. Tennessee tied the game twice more, but was not able to break through for the lead, eventually falling on a tip by Queen Nzenwa that avoided the Lady Vol block.
The Orange and White got one of the games back in the third frame, cruising to a 30-22 triumph over the Wildcats. Tied at 12-all, UT used a trio of scores to take a lead that it would never relinquish. Slowly but surely, Tennessee increased its advantage to 21-16 before a service error and kill by Bartek cut the score to 21-18. The Lady Vols would not let it get any closer than that, however, as Fowler took control with two putaways separated only by a block by Hinkey and junior Milan Clarke. Just four plays later, the Big Orange got three more scores in consecutive fashion, with a kill by Clarke, an ace by Marshall and a putaway by Powe, to go up 28-21. After a kill from Kentucky’s Lauren Rapp, Hinkey smashed a ball straight down off the block before a Wildcat attack error ended the frame.
Tennessee was not able to carry the energy into the fourth game, unfortunately, dropping a 24-30 decision and the match three games to one. Kentucky came out of the gates on fire, opening up an 8-3 advantage before the Lady Vols knew what hit them. They did not fold, however, fighting back to shrink the deficit to just a pair of scores at 9-11, after back-to-back Wildcat miscues and a laser by Powe down the left-side line. UK quickly responded with five consecutive points to move the score to 16-9. Later in the set, down by eight at 16-24, the Orange and White cut the Kentucky advantage in half, as it took advantage of three Wildcat errors and got a sharp kill by Fowler after a terrific dig by junior Laurén LaFlamme. A timeout by Skinner halted the rally in its tracks, however, and the two teams traded scores until back-to-back kills by Nicole Britenriker ended the match.
UT will return to Knoxville for a one-match homestand this Sunday, when it hosts the University of Arkansas (6-8, 0-4 SEC). First serve versus the Lady Razorbacks is set for 1:30 p.m. at Stokely Athletics Center.