Volleyball stays perfect in SEC play

The No. 19 Tennessee Lady Vol volleyball team kept its SEC record perfect, as it defeated Alabama in straight sets, 25-23, 25-22, 25-15, on Friday evening in front of 1,999 fans at the annual "Dig for the Cure" match at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"We are very excited about being home," Lady Vol head coach Rob Patrick said. "We have been on the road for two tough weekends, a lot of travel and our players love playing in front of the best fans in the country. They (the fans) showed up and really did a great job of supporting us and pushing us through this match."

Playing in front of the second largest crowd in Lady Vol history, the Big Orange (13-2, 7-0) fought off a pesky Alabama squad to extend its winning streak to 10, which is the longest since 2004, when the squad rattled off 14 straight. The crowd was in for much more than volleyball, as it gave $2,650 dollars to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which is devoted to breast cancer research.

"What was great was when I looked up into the stands and 70 or 80 percent of the fans were wearing pink and helping the Susan G. Komen Foundation," Patrick said. "It is really about more than just volleyball and we are really excited to be in partnership with such a great charity. For the crowd to come out and number one support us, and then support the Susan G. Komen Foundation, you can't ask for a better Friday evening."

The team slugged a whopping .340 against the Crimson Tide, led by sophomore Kelsey Robinson and junior Leslie Cikra. Robinson registered a team-high 15 kills and had 13 digs to notch her 11th double-double on the season. Cikra added 13 kills, hitting a team best .524, as she converted 13 kills on 21 swings to set a career-best in hitting percentage.

Defensively, freshman Shealyn Kolosky caused problems for Alabama, sending a team-high six Crimson Tide attacks back. Her six blocks ties a career-high, as she also recorded six against Maryland earlier this season at the Comcast Lady Vol Classic in August.

Along with Robinson reaching double figures in digs, sophomore Ellen Mullins hit the double digit mark after digging up 12. This season, the Nashville native has recorded double-digit digs in every conference match.

Freshman setter Mary Pollmiller had 39 of UT's 44 assists, while dropping in three kills of her own and having five digs. Sophomore Carly Sahagian and freshman Tiffany Baker, who was sidelined briefly with an ankle injury, also blasted four kills apiece on the night.

"Digging wise, Ellen did a fantastic job of allowing our offense to run in transition," Patrick said. "Mary Pollmiller was able to get the ball to our do everything young lady, Kelsey Robinson, who filled up the stat sheet one more time. She did a fantastic job of hitting for a high percentage and getting kills for us. She does a fantastic job of keeping our team steady and playing at a high level for a long period of time."

Tennessee looked dominant early in set one, jumping out to a quick 5-1 advantage over UA off of a pair of kills by junior DeeDee Harrison, a Robinson blast and two Crimson Tide miscues. With the score at 5-2, the Lady Vols would score the next three to extend their lead to 6, 8-2, as Cikra and Kolosky both registered kills.

Tennessee would hold a five-point lead over Alabama at 11-6 and 14-9, but the Tide wouldn't go out without a fight. With the score at 14-9, Alabama went on a 3-0 rally to cut the lead to two, 14-12. After a kill by Robinson to make the score 15-12, UA would score the next two to cut the deficit to one. Tennessee responded however, scoring the next five to make the score 20-14. During that span, Cikra had a pair of kills, Robinson added another blast and Cikra and Kolosky combined for a block.

The Lady Vols would push the lead out to seven, 23-16, after kills from Sahagian and Kolosky. Alabama rallied to score the next six to cut into the Orange and White lead, 23-22. A kill from Robinson got UT within a point of taking the set at 24-22, and she also ended the set with another kill after Alabama again cut the deficit to one at 24-23. The Robinson kill gave the Lady Vols the first set, 25-23.

The second frame was close from the beginning to end. Three kills from Cikra, plus a pair of kills and an ace from Robinson gave the Big Orange an early 6-3 advantage. Freshman Nikki Brice followed that up with an ace of her own, making the score 7-3, but again the Crimson Tide fought back, scoring the next three to make the score 7-6 in favor of UT.

The second set score was tied on nine occasions, as the teams were knotted up at 10, 11 and 12 before Alabama took its first lead of the set at 13-12. Three miscues from UA propelled Tennessee into a 15-13 lead, but Alabama would again tie the set up at 16 and 17. A Robinson kill and a UA attack error gave the Lady Vols a 19-17 lead, but Alabama even the score up again at 19 apiece after scoring two in a row.

The final tie of the second frame would be at 20-20, as the Lady Vols went on to score the next three points by way of a Baker kill, a Cikra kill and a setting error by Alabama. UA would get within two twice, 23-21 and 24-22, but a cross court laser by Cikra ended the Tide's hopes of winning the set, giving UT the second set, 25-22, and a 2-0 match advantage.

The Crimson Tide notched one more kill and outhit UT in the second set, but eight errors destroyed any chance for the team to even the match up at one heading into the break.

Tennessee looked stellar in the third and final set, hitting an astounding .448 to go along with 15 kills en route to a 25-15 set victory and match win.

With the score even at two, the Lady Vols scored the next five points of the set and never looked back. A service error sent long by Alabama ignited the UT run, as back-to-back blocks by Cikra and Kolosky, plus a kill by Sahagian and a UA ball handling error gave UT a 7-2 lead. Alabama would cut the UT lead to three twice, 9-6 and 10-7, but could not surpass the Lady Vols.

Up four, 12-8, five straight points from the Big Orange extended the lead to 17-8. During that stretch, Harrison had two blocks, one being solo, along with a pair of kills from Cikra. Three kills by Robinson pushed the UT lead out to 10 on three occasions, 21-11, 22-12 and 23-13, while a Baker blast made the score 24-14. After an Alabama point, the Crimson Tide sent the ensuing serve into the net to give Tennessee its 13th win and 10th straight victory of the season.

Tennessee will host Ole Miss on Sunday before hitting the road again for the next four. Sunday's match is slated for 1:30 p.m., with Rob Patrick's 300th win being commemorated prior to the start of the match.

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