AUBURN, Ala. (school release) -- The #20 University of Tennessee volleyball team got off to a bit of a sluggish start against Auburn, but bounced back to win three straight sets and defeat the Tigers in four, 19-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-18, on Friday evening at the Student Activities Center on the campus of Auburn University.
With the win, the Lady Vols improve to 17-3 overall and 10-1 in Southeastern Conference play. The victory also assures UT of being .500 or better in league play for the fourth straight season and the 13th time under head coach Rob Patrick.
“We were off balanced in that first set in all phases of the game,” Patrick said “We needed to play a little bit better and we did. That was exciting to see as we put the first set behind us and in the second set we started to clean up large parts of our game. We put ourselves in a position to be successful and the team carried that through the rest of the match and I was pretty happy about that.”
Freshman Tiffany Baker had a career night in kills and hitting percentage, as she registered a team- and personal-best 19 kills and led the team in hitting percentage at a clip of .447. She was one block short of tying her season-best, as she had four put backs against the Tigers, one of them being a solo block. Her previous career-best of 14 kills came in September against Houston.
“This was really a team win,” Patrick said. “The one person that really kept us in this match was Tiffany Baker. She is really getting comfortable with our offense. She did a wonderful job of hitting the ball in some areas that Auburn couldn’t defend her and got us some big kills, even from the back row.”
Two other Lady Vols tallied double-digit kills, as junior DeeDee Harrison hammered 12 and sophomore Kelsey Robinson notched 10 of her own. Harrison also led the team in blocks with six, three of which were solo.
Mary Pollmiller had 47 of the Lady Vols 53 assists, as the freshman also tied a career-high in blocks with three. As a team, the Lady Vols outhit Auburn, .238-.172 and dug up 10 more balls than AU, 51-41. Libero Ellen Mullins led the team in digs with 16 and received 27 Auburn serves, which was also the most on the squad.
Freshman Shealyn Kolosky hit .400 for the match as she registered six kills and a pair of digs. Junior Leslie Cikra also had six kills of her own, as she was clutch down the stretch for the Orange and White.
The first set of the match saw Auburn score the first three points, before a Tiger serve into the net gave the Orange and White their first point, trailing 3-1. Tennessee’s first five points of the frame came by way of AU miscues but the Tigers lead wire-to-wire in the set.
Down 10-5, UT rallied by scoring the next three to cut the lead to two, 10-8. During that run Pollmiller had a kill, Robinson and Harrison combined for a block to go along with an Auburn error.
The Big Orange would get no closer than two, as with the score 11-8 in favor of Auburn, the squads would trade the ensuing eight points to make the score 15-12. Tennessee would get within three, 19-16, after back-to-back kills from Sahagian and Harrison.
Another kill from Baker made the score 22-18, but the Tigers tallied the three of the final four points of the set to win the opening frame, 25-19. Baker was outstanding in the set, blasting five kills, as she hit at a .625 clip. Both teams struggled from the service line as UT had six serving errors to Auburn’s five.
The second frame was similar to what UT fans are accustomed to seeing, as the Big Orange quickly jumped out to a 4-1 lead and never look back. With Tennessee leading 5-2 off an Auburn service error, the Tigers scored the next two to cut into the Tennessee lead, 5-4.
Tennessee would respond to the Tiger rally, as the team went on a 5-0 run to extend its lead to 10-4. Baker was an instrumental part in that run, as the Carrolton, Texas, native had two kills and a solo block. The ensuing eight points would go back-and-forth as the Lady Vols kept their lead at six, 14-8.
The Tigers would cut into the Tennessee lead once more, going on a 3-0 rally to make the score 14-11. Neither team would be able to score two consecutive points until an ace by Mullins followed a Baker kill to give the Lady Vols a 22-17 lead. Prior to the serving ace by Mullins, UT and AU split 12 points.
The squads would go back-and-forth until Tennessee reached the 25-point mark. A pair of Baker kills got Tennessee within one, 24-19. A shot from Robinson ended the set at 25-20 as the Orange and White headed into the break tied at one in the match with Auburn.
Following the 10 minute intermission, the Lady Vols and Tigers were even early in the third set at three apiece. After a block from Baker and Kolosky gave UT its first lead of the set at 4-3, Auburn would quickly respond and knot the score up at four. That’s when Tennessee would surge, scoring the next four points off of a Baker kill, a Pollmiller block, a Robinson kill and a block from Baker and Kolosky to grab an 8-4 advantage.
Tennessee would keep the lead at four, 9-5 and 10-6, but Auburn would score two straight to make the score 10-8. Like before, the Lady Vols came right back and rattled off five straight points. Two blocks along with a Robinson ace, a Harrison kill and an AU miscue gave UT a 15-8 advantage.
Auburn would slowly cut into the Big Orange lead, getting as close as one on four occasions. The first three times the Tigers would get within one, 18-17, 19-18 and 20-19, Robinson blasted kills to give the Lady Vols a two point advantage. Two attack errors by AU gave UT a 23-19 lead, but Auburn would score four of the next five to again make it a one point set, 24-23.
Cikra ended the Tigers’ hopes of coming back in the set, as she put down a kill to give the Lady Vols the third frame, 25-23 and a 2-1 match lead. In the third set, Robinson had four kills and Baker had three blocks.
Auburn would not easily be tamed in the fourth set, as it raced out to a quick 4-0 lead. Tennessee scored five of the ensuing seven points to cut the deficit to one, 6-5. Two miscues by the Tigers even the set up at seven and a pair of kills from Baker and one from Kolosky gave UT a 10-8 lead.
The set would be tied at 10, 11 and 12 before a solo block from Harrison, back-to-back kills from Cikra and an AU attack error gave Tennessee the lead for good at 16-12. The Tigers would get as close as four on three occasions, but the Orange and White pulled away late. With the score 19-15, Baker, Robinson and Kolosky all blasted kills to give UT a 22-15 advantage.
Another kill from Kolosky made the score 23-16 and Harrison scored the last two UT points in the set, both kills, to give Tennessee the set, 25-18, and leave the state of Alabama with a victory.
The team is now off to Athens, Ga., to take on the Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. ET. Earlier this season, Tennessee defeated Georgia 3-0 in the SEC opener for both teams at Thompson-Boling Arena.