Volleyball wins five-set thriller over Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In a hostile environment and playing in front of a national TV audience on ESPNU, the Lady Vol volleyball team edged No. 6 Florida in thrilling fashion, 25-21, 20-25, 25-21, 19-25, 18-16, at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center.

"This was as high of a level match as you are going to see in college volleyball," Lady Vol head coach Rob Patrick said after the Sunday evening match. "This was two great, athletic, well coached teams battling it out.

"Unfortunately, there had to be a loser. Fortunately, I'm glad it wasn't us. Coming down to Florida, it is one of the hardest places to win a match. I couldn't be prouder of every single player on this team."

Tennessee (11-2, 4-0) had four players reach double-digits in kills, while two of them recorded double-doubles. Sophomore Carly Sahagian led the charge offensively with a career-high 19 kills, to go along with 13 digs. Sophomore Kelsey Robinson notched double-double number nine this season, blasting 17 kills in addition to 12 digs.

Juniors Leslie Cikra and DeeDee Harrison also reached double figures in kills, as Cikra hit a season-high 17, while Harrison notched 12 of her own. Harrison also led the squad in blocks, sending four attacks back against the Gators.

Freshman Mary Pollmiller continues to impress at the setter position, this time notching 59 assists, plus an ace, eight digs and two blocks.

"We have some really high goals at the University of Tennessee," Patrick said. "We want to win the SEC Championships. Well guess what, you have to go through Florida. We got that one win over Florida but there are still 16 SEC matches. We better be prepared for every single match from here on out, because we are going to get everyone's best shot"

With Florida leading the opening set of the match, 2-1, UT used a 3-0 run off kills by freshman Shealyn Kolosky, Robinson and Harrison to take a 4-2 advantage. The Lady Vols would not relinquish their lead, as the squad, up 5-4, went on to score the next five points, in large part to three Robinson kills to extend the lead to 9-4.

Up three, 10-7, Cikra smashed two kills to go along with a Kolosky kill and a UF serving error, giving Tennessee a seven point lead, 14-7. The two teams went back-and-forth until the score was 21-17 in favor of UT. That's when the Orange and White scored the next three points by way of a Cikra kill, a block by Sahagian and Kolosky and an ace by freshman Nikki Brice, to give UT a 24-17 advantage and the serve for the match.

Florida made it interesting towards the end of the set, going on a 4-0 rally to make the score 24-21, but a kill by Sahagian dashed the hopes of the Gators and gave Tennessee the first set, 25-21.

The Big Orange carried its momentum from set one into the second set, jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead by way of a UF serving error, a solo block from Cikra and a block by Harrison and Robinson. Tennessee would use another 3-0 run behind a Brice ace, a Robinson kill and an attack error by Florida to extend its lead to six, 9-3.

After a Harrison kill to give Tennessee a 13-8 advantage, Florida scored the next seven points and never looked back, leading 15-13. The Orange and White did tie the match up at 16 by way of a Cikra kill and a Brice ace, but could never overtake the Gators after that. Tennessee cut the lead to three on four occasions, 16-19, 17-20, 19-22 and 20-23, but Florida prevailed in the set, 25-20.

The third set was a seesaw battle, as both squads looked to take a 2-1 lead in the match. With the match tied at one apiece, Florida went on a 3-0 run and taking the lead 4-1, only to see the Lady Vols match that run with a 3-0 rally themselves to tie things up at four.

Two Sahagian blasts put the Lady Vols up 7-5, but the Gators went on a 4-1 run to regain the lead, 9-8. Tennessee responded however, knotting the match at 11-11 off a Harrison kill, but again UF rattled off three straight to take a 14-11 advantage. Not to be outdone, Tennessee used two Gator miscues and kills from Cikra and Sahagian to regain the lead, 15-14. Florida would tie the set up at 15, 16 and 17, but Tennessee hit the accelerator and never trailed after being up 18-17.

A UF service error gave Tennessee a 23-20 lead and Sahagian closed out the set with two kills to give Tennessee set three, 25-21, and a 2-1 match advantage.

The fourth frame began with team trading points up to three. The match was then tied at six, eight, 11, 13, 15 and 16. Florida would score the next two points to go ahead 18-16, but a Robinson blast cut the deficit to one. UF followed that up by scoring the next four points and seven of the last nine to capture set four, 25-19. During UF's 7-2 run to end the set, Tennessee got both of its point by way of Harrison kills.

With the match tied up 2-2, the first to 15, or in this case 18, would leave the O'Dome with a victory. Kills from Cikra, Harrison and Sahagian netted Tennessee its first three points of the match and two Gator miscues put the Lady Vols up 5-3. Tennessee maintained a two point lead from kills by Robinson and Sahagian. Up 8-7 off of another Robinson kill, the two squads switched sides. The switch proved to be very helpful for the Gators, who scored the next four points to take the lead, 11-8.

A timeout called by Patrick settled the Lady Vols down, who then erupted and scored the next six points of the match because of three Gator errors, a Robinson kill, a block and a Sahagian kill. The rally gave Tennessee a 14-11 advantage, and UT was serving for the match. Florida would not go down without a fight, registering three consecutive points off of two kills and a Cikra attack error.

UF's Kelly Murphy's ensuing serve hit into the net, putting UT back up by one, 15-14, and giving the Lady Vols another opportunity to clinch the match. Tennessee returned the favor however, as it served the ball into the net to again tie the score up, this time at 15. The teams traded kills to knot the score up at 16, but a Sahagian bomb and a Florida attack error gave Tennessee the victory, 18-16, as the team stormed the court.

"I'm glad they stormed the court," Patrick explained. "That's what you are supposed to do. They have a lot of passion for the game and they are really fun to coach because of that passion. I was really excited to see how excited they were."

Tennessee is off to a 4-0 start in SEC play for the first time since 2004. The win at Florida also gives the Lady Vols seven consecutive conference wins dating back to last season.

Tennessee continues its SEC road trip next weekend when the squad faces LSU on Friday in Baton Rouge, then heads to Fayetteville, Ark., to take on the Razorbacks this Sunday afternoon.

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