"Mississippi came in on a pretty good hot streak and we were pretty worried about them, especially defensively, so this was a good win for us," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "They are a great defensive team and I knew they would really test our offense to see how well we could get some kills against them.
"I thought we ran our offense pretty well though. One of the things that we try to do is get four to five players involved in the match, and we were able to do that tonight. I also really challenged our team to match them defensively, so I was excited to see that we were able to out-dig them."
The Big Orange was led by senior Nikki Fowler who registered her 45th career double-double with 10 kills on .375 hitting with a team-high 12 digs. The Dallas, Texas, native had just a single error in 24 swings, in addition to collecting two aces and a pair of assists.
Topping the team in the kills category, however, was junior Kayla Jeter. In just her third full match as a six-rotation player this season, she hit at a .353 clip with a match-high 16 kills, nine digs and two blocks.
After Jeter and Fowler, the Lady Vols got five kills each from senior Leah Hinkey, sophomore DeeDee Harrison and freshman Carly Sahagian. Hinkey also tallied match-highs with a .500 hitting percentage and four blocks, in addition to recording four digs.
Pacing the offense from the setter position were senior Emily Steinbeck and freshman Kylann Scheidt. The two combined to distribute 43 assists on 45 Tennessee kills. Steinbeck also added five digs, while Scheidt scooped up six Rebel attacks and served a pair of aces.
"Our setters have been improving weekly," Patrick said. "I'm really proud of both Kylann and Emily because they have really worked hard in practice and in individuals to get better.
"They are doing a good job of running the offense and making good decision in terms of who they are setting. That plays a big role in why we are hitting at such a high percentage as a team."
Much like its match against Kentucky, Tennessee emerged superior in virtually every statistical category as a team versus the Rebels. The Lady Vols delivered five more kills (45-40), out-hit them by a wide margin (.343 to .180), tallied four more service aces (5-1), recorded 12 more digs (57-45) and registered four more blocks (12-8).
The opening frame as a back-and-forth battle with 14 ties and five lead changes, but the Big Orange pulled away late to pick up a tight, 25-22, victory. Fowler led the charge, hitting .625 with five kills on eight errorless swings. She also found time to scoop up eight attacks during the set.
Trailing by one at the midway point, 15-14, Jeter and Fowler sandwiched kills around an Ole Miss error to regain the advantage by a pair of scores. After the two teams traded the next five points, Tennessee got consecutive points once again on a Fowler blast from the right side and a huge block by Hinkey and Jeter to go ahead 21-18 and force Rebel Head Coach Joe Getzin to burn a timeout.
The short stoppage in play had just the effect Getzin had hoped for as Ole Miss scored the next three points to tie the frame up at 21-21. The Lady Vols were undeterred, however, and immediately answered with a kill by Jeter down the center of the court.
An attack error by Regina Thomas then followed before Scheidt moved the stanza to set point with service ace. Although UM's Whitney Craven would fight off the first opportunity with a kill, another offensive miscue by Thomas brought things to a close and gave UT the early lead.
Tennessee jumped ahead early and never looked back in the second set, as it cruised to a 25-16 triumph. Behind the strength of five more kills by Jeter and four total team blocks, the Big Orange out-hit Ole Miss, .355 to .071, in the stanza.
Although the Rebels put the first tally on the scoreboard in the frame, the Lady Vols took 11 of the next 13 scores to race out to a commanding, 11-3, advantage. By the time the set had read that point, Getzin had already burned both of his timeouts.
His first came in the midst of a five-point UT tear that was triggered by back-to-back big plays by Sahagian. The Bartlett, Ill., native kicked off the spree with a kill that she immediately followed with a solo stuff on a swing by Craven.
Fowler then caught UM libero Morgan Springer and setter Emily Kvitle off-balance on consecutive plays with a pair of tremendous jump serves that went for aces. She then capped off the run with a blast from the back row.
Getzin's second timeout came just five plays later, with the final four of those points all going to Tennessee. This time it was Hinkey's turn to spark the spree, as she took a set from Steinbeck and slammed it home. Jeter followed with a kill of her own on the next point, which sophomore Leslie Cikra followed up by sending back a Craven attack for a solo block. Scheidt then brought the spurt to a close with an ace.
From that point on, the Orange and White simply cruised to victory, never allowing Ole Miss closer than five points the rest of the way. Fittingly, the set ended with UT on a run as it picked up the final three scores on kills by Jeter and Fowler and an attack error by Craven.
The Big Orange then closed out the match with a strong effort in the third set, which it won, 25-22. Once again, Jeter put on a show offensively, pounding out seven kills on .545 hitting, while Steinbeck and junior Amanda Friday led the defensive effort with four digs each.
With a slim, 8-7, lead in hand, Tennessee took advantage of a Rebel miscue to take control of the frame with four straight scores. Jeter followed the attack error with a shot that ricocheted off the UM middle blockers and down for a kill. Steinbeck then dropped a beautiful serve into the back-left corner of the court for an ace, which Jeter followed with another putaway to put the Orange and White up 12-7.
Ole Miss would close the gap to three at 15-12, but Jeter simply refused to let them any closer, blasting out three consecutive kills to thwart the attempted comeback.
After an Ole Miss timeout and kill, a pair of sophomores took over as Cikra got a kill on a tip down the left-side of the court before teaming up with DeeDee Harrison to stuff an attack by Miranda Kitts. Harrison then rose high over the UM block and sent the ball crashing to the court on the next play for good measure to put UT up 21-13.
Ole Miss continued to fight though, winning nine of the next 12 points to move within two at 24-22. Fowler proceeded to dash the Rebels dreams, however, picking up the final kill she needed to complete her double-double while ending the match at the same time.
The Lady Vols will have a week off from competitive action before hitting the road again next weekend when they travel to square off with Arkansas at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, Oct. 8, in Fayetteville, Ark., and No. 16 LSU at 2:30 p.m. ET two days later in Baton Rouge, La.