FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (release) -- After winning three consecutive five-set matches, the Tennessee Lady Vol volleyball team did things a bit quicker on Sunday afternoon, shutting out Arkansas in straight sets, 25-22, 25-22, 25-16, at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville, Ark., to extend its winning streak to four matches.
The Lady Vols improved to 13-5 overall and 6-3 in Southeastern Conference action with the win, while the Razorbacks fall to 14-6 and 5-4 in league play.
“First of all, I was really surprised we were able to come out of here in only three sets,” said head coach Rob Patrick. “We thought this would be the type of match that went back and forth and two of the sets were very tight. We were very fortunate to play cleaner at the end make some plays at the end of sets one and two. I was very happy with the total effort and the way our team carried out the game plan.”
Junior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson posted her 40th career and SEC-leading 13th double-double with a match-high 15 kills and 10 digs. Robinson, who played the majority of the match on the right side, committed just three errors on 39 attempts to hit .308 for the Big Orange. Redshirt senior DeeDee Harrison tied a season high with 11 kills, hit .292 and added a match-best seven blocks.
“She’s (Robinson) a talented young lady that we can use all over the court,” said Patrick. “She has so many talented aspects of her game that we can use so we wanted to move her around a little bit to work some different matchups and give the opposing team some problems. She did a fantastic job of playing a very low-error match.”
Defensively, the Lady Vols were once again led by junior libero Ellen Mullins, who followed up her 32-dig night at LSU with 17 against the Hogs. UT had three notch double-digit digs in the match as setter Mary Pollmiller finished with 13 scoops and 27 assists for her ninth double-double of the season. Mullins also added a career-high four aces.
“I couldn’t be happier for Ellen Mullins,” Patrick said. “I’ve said it before, but she’s turning into one of the elite defensive players in our conference and it’s because she works on it. Everything that she has accomplished is because of her hard work. She’s been very coachable doing everything the staff has asked of her and it’s really paying off in her junior year.”
In the middle, sophomore Olivia Okoro – who made her first career start – sent back four Razorback attacks and had three kills. Robinson and redshirt senior Kayla Jeter combined for seven blocks, while Pollmiller and Tiffany Baker added three each. The Lady Vols outblocked the Razorbacks by a 12.5-6 margin.
“Our blocking is getting better. DeeDee had seven blocks today and she did an excellent job of closing the block and making it a little bit easier for our back row players to defend,” said Patrick. “Olivia had four blocks and everyone is our starting front row had three or more blocks. That just goes to show you we’re really playing more consistently on defense and that is allowing us to be more successful.”
Neither team could find their rhythm in the opening set at The Barn as both squads hit below .200, but the Lady Vols got an ace out of Mullins and a block from Okoro and Baker to close out the set on a 3-0 run and take a 1-0 lead with a 25-22 victory. Mullins had two aces in the opening frame, while Robinson added five kills and five digs. The Big Orange had four team blocks, including three assisted from Harrison and got a pair of kills from Okoro and Baker. The set consisted of 10 ties and four lead changes.
The Hogs quickly changed the momentum with the start of the second, opening the frame on a 4-0 run. On the serve of Mullins, the Lady Vols responded with a 4-1 run to level the set at five. Mullins had two aces during the stretch to set her new career high at four. A Nikki Brice ace gave the Lady Vols a 19-17 lead later in the game and forced a Hogs’ timeout. Brice aced the Razorbacks with her first serve out of the timeout and kept the 7-2 Big Orange run going to force set point at 24-18. Arkansas cut the deficit to 24-22, but a Robinson kill gave UT a 25-22 second set win and sent the match to the break.
The third set belonged to Tennessee from the start. The Lady Vols never surrendered the lead and used a blazing 9-1 run, which included two kills and two blocks from Harrison, to cruise past the Razorbacks, 25-16 in the deciding set. It was the fourth sweep of the season for the Orange & White.
With the win, Tennessee has now won 12 out of the last 13 meetings against the Razorbacks. The only Arkansas victory during the stretch came in four sets at Thompson-Boling Arena just over three weeks ago.
The Lady Vols continue their three match roadswing on Friday, Oct. 19 when they travel to College Station, Texas, for the first time in nearly 18 years to take on new SEC member Texas A&M. First serve against the Aggies is slated for 7 p.m. ET.
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