TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (release) -- After dropping the opening set, the No. 17 Tennessee Lady Vol volleyball team rallied to earn its first Southeastern Conference win of the season on Sunday, topping Alabama in four frames, 3-1 (19-25, 25-17, 25-15, 25-15), to pick up a crucial road win at Foster Auditorium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Tennessee improves to 8-3 on the season and 1-1 in the SEC, while the Crimson Tide drops to 12-2 overall and 1-1 in the league. It was the ninth straight victory for UT against Alabama. The Big Orange is now 32-12 all-time against the Tide and 13-7 in Tuscaloosa.
“Alabama came in really fired up and played tough,” said head coach Rob Patrick. “They played a pretty low-error match. We didn’t take care of the ball on our side of the net in the first set. I’m really proud of the team for regrouping in the second set. From then on, we cut down on our errors, were a lot more focused on the ball and what we needed to do and our techniques.
Junior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson led the match with 20 kills and 14 digs, to record her ninth consecutive and 36th career double-double. Tennessee senior Leslie Cikra added 10 kills and tied a career best with seven blocks, while sophomore Shealyn Kolosky added eight blocks in her first match of the season for the Lady Vols. Robinson and Cikra hit .487 and .476, respectively.
Redshirt freshman Mercedes Vaughn slammed down a career-best nine kills and hit .368 in the match. Sophomore setter Mary Pollmiller recorded her fourth double-double of the season with a match-high 46 assists and 12 digs, while junior libero Ellen Mullins added 12 scoops for the Orange & White.
“Mary Pollmiller did a fantastic job of running our offense,” said Patrick. “She got everyone involved in the match. Kelsey Robinson is someone that has been leading us in attempts and she did it again today with 39 and led us in kills. But what I was really proud of was how we got our middles involved. The one middle position had about 15 or 16 attempts. The other position – with Mercedes Vaughn – had 18 attempts, our right side had 19 and our outside had 19 or 20 so I was really pleased with the distribution that Mary had in today’s match. It really kept Alabama off balance in trying to defend our hitters.”
The Crimson Tide jumped out to a 6-2 lead to start the match, and would later use a pair of 5-0 runs en route to a 25-19 first set victory. The Lady Vols cut Alabama’s lead to 13-9 following a DeeDee Harrison kill and pulled within five at 21-16 with a 6-2 run, but wasn’t able to complete the comeback. Both Harrison and Robinson had three kills in the opening set, while Vaughn had two kills during UT’s 6-2 stretch. It was the first set the Tide has taken off the Big Orange since Oct. 16, 2009.
Tennessee responded quickly in the second stanza, taking a 2-0 lead with kills from Robinson and Kolosky, who was playing in her first match back from a hand injury. Back to back aces from sophomore Nikki Brice put the Lady Vols up 7-4, but Alabama would rally for a 6-2 run. Down 10-9, UT went on an 8-2 run, which including three kills from Robinson, to go up 17-12 and force a ’Bama timeout. Vaughn came up big at the end of the game, leading UT to a 25-17 victory and leveling the match at one set apiece. The redshirt freshman had five kills in the set, including four late, to bring her match total to seven after two sets. Robinson went into the intermission with nine kills, six digs and a .450 hitting percentage.
After the break, UT carried its momentum into the third set, going up 4-0 behind two blocks from Cikra. Following three straight Tide points, the Lady Vols went on an 8-1 run to take a 12-4 lead in the crucial third set. The Lady Vols picked up its defensive game in the third, compiling six team blocks. Kolosky and Cikra led the way with four and three in the game, respectively, while Robinson added two. Tennessee went on a 9-3 skid to pull within two points of closing out the set at 23-12. Alabama fought off two Lady Vol set points, but UT went on to win the game, 25-15.
Robinson took over in the fourth set, compiling seven kills on 10 attempts with no errors for a .700 attacking percentage. Redshirt senior Kayla Jeter made her first appearance in the middle of the set and provided a major spark for the Lady Vols. Jeter jump-started a 5-0 run for the Big Orange, tallying three kills and one big block to seal a 25-15 victory in the fourth frame. The Solon, Ohio, native hit a perfect 1.000 in the game.
The Big Orange returns home for the first time in eight matches when it welcomes Arkansas to Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. UT will then host South Carolina on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Lady Vols are a combined 49-39 against the two opponents.