KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- Pushed to the brink after dropping the first two sets and playing to a 22-22 tie in the third, the Tennessee Lady Vol volleyball team found its rhythm at just the right time and rallied to defeat Georgia in five sets, 24-26, 16-25, 25-22, 25-21, 16-14, on Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.
With the win, Tennessee improves to 11-5 overall and 4-3 in Southeastern Conference play, while the Bulldogs fall to 9-7 and 3-4 in league action. It was just the fifth time of the rally scoring era UT was able to come back from a 2-0 deficit and win. The win also extends the Orange and White’s home winning streak against UGA to 11 consecutive matches.
“Georgia played really well. They were touching and digging everything,” said head coach Rob Patrick. “They had a good game plan for us and they came in ready to play before we were. Our girls are fighters. We have people that are going to work hard out there. We knew it had to be one point at a time. This win says a lot about the character of our young ladies on the court.”
Senior Kayla Jeter led the comeback charge for the Big Orange, recording a career-high 27 kills in the contest, breaking her previous mark of 23 set during her sophomore year in 2009 at Kentucky. The Solon, Ohio, native, who hit. 444 with just three errors on 54 swings, also had 12 digs and a pair of blocks for her first double-double of the season and the third of her career.
“The way Kayla played… she really was a MVP today,” said Patrick. “You can’t have a better team player than a young lady like that who can hit these types of numbers as an outside hitter. She’s incredible. In the beginning of the year, she was playing middle and right side for us. She’ll do whatever she can to the best of her ability. We saw that and knew we needed to get her on the court.”
Sophomore Tiffany Baker posted her second straight double-double with 16 kills and 14 digs to go along with three blocks and two aces. Tennessee setter Mary Pollmiller dished out 54 assists and had 11 digs, marking the first match this season UT had three double-doubles.
Defensively, the Lady Vols were led at the net by seniors DeeDee Harrison and Leslie Cikra. Harrison put down a career-best nine blocks and Cikra added seven. Junior libero Ellen Mullins was the fourth UT player with double-digit digs, as she finished the afternoon with 14. Mullins has scooped 12 or more balls in all seven SEC matches this year.
Georgia used three 3-0 runs and hit .333 in the opening game to win a hard fought set by a 26-24 margin. The Bulldogs had set point at 24-21 and the Lady Vols rallied to tie it up at 24 with kills from Cikra, Shealyn Kolosky and Baker. Tirah Le’au gave the ’Dogs another set point chance with her third kill of the set and a UT ball handling error ended the frame.
UGA continued the efficient attacking in the next game, posting a .306 attacking clip and holding the Lady Vols below .100 as the Bulldogs cruised to a 25-16 victory and a 2-0 lead heading into the break.
The third set went back and forth as neither team was able to establish more than a three point lead. It consisted of 11 ties and two lead changes, but the Lady Vols came up big when they needed to. With the game tied at 22, Baker slammed down a kill and Georgia’s Jasmine Eatmon hit it out, giving UT its first set point chance at 24-22. Baker was there once again, picking up her eighth kill of the match, to seal the 25-22 victory for the Big Orange and cut the match deficit to 2-1.
Jeter took over in the fourth set, putting Tennessee up 2-0 with back to back kills and never looked back. The Lady Vols did not give up the lead in the game as the 5-foot-11 outside hitter put down eight kills, including the set winner, and hit .353 to lead UT to a 25-21 win and force a fifth and final set.
Georgia would not lie down in the final frame, taking an 8-7 lead midway through the fifth. After the squads switched sides, the Lady Vols rallied behind Baker and Jeter to gain control with a 5-1 run. The duo accounted for all five points as Jeter had three kills and Baker had a kill and an ace during the stretch. After a Bulldog timeout, UGA used a 4-2 run of their own to level it at 14, before back to back kills from Baker would end the set, 16-14, and give the Big Orange the comeback win.
The Lady Vols held the statistical advantage in kills (71-68), hitting percentage (.258-.253), assists (65-61), aces (5-2), digs (79-74) and tea blocks (16-13).
Tennessee returns to SEC action on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET when it travels to Baton Rouge, La., to take on defending Western Division champs LSU. The midweek tilt will be broadcast live on ESPNU.