Volleyball defeats MSU in four sets

The No. 16 Tennessee volleyball team had four players register double-digits in kills against Mississippi State, as the balanced offensive attack was enough to top the Bulldogs in four sets, 25-22, 23-25, 25-16, 25-14, on Sunday.

"It was a match that we needed to play well to win and I challenged our team, especially against a really good defensive team like Mississippi State, to play harder than them and try to outdig them," Lady Vol head coach Rob Patrick said after the home match.

"We needed to be patient. If we thought we were going to go out here and just get a kill on our first swing, we were not going to be effective. Mississippi State can frustrate teams, so I was happy we were able to settle down a little bit and play a little bit more of a patient game."

Junior Leslie Cikra and sophomore Kelsey Robinson both registered 15 kills against the Bulldogs, as Cikra was second on the team in hitting percentage, connecting on 15 of her 26 swings, while only committing one error to hit .538. Robinson was one dig shy of recording double-double number 18 on the year, as she had nine digs and ranked second on the team in assists with five.

Freshman Tiffany Baker recorded a double-double against MSU, while junior DeeDee Harrison reached the double digit mark in kills with 10. Baker tallied her fourth double-double on the year by blasting 11 kills to go along with 10 digs, in addition to her four blocks. Harrison also tied with freshman Shealyn Kolosky in blocks, as the duo led the team with five blocks each.

The only other time this season UT had four players record 10 or more kills this season came against Florida on Oct. 2. Against the Gators, sophomore Carly Sahagian (19), Cikra (17), Robinson (17) and Harrison (12) all tallied double digits in kills.

"If you look at the score sheet, this is how we would like our score sheet to look," Patrick said. "Unfortunately, too many times, it has been Kelsey Robinson with 60 swings and the next person with 30. We had five players within about a 10 swing area and that is something we want to do to keep the other team off-balance. We have players that can get kills for us in a lot of different areas, so we want to use them."

Kolosky and freshman Mary Pollmiller had Tennessee's other 12 kills, as Kolosky slammed eight, while Pollmiller hit a team-best .571, accounting for four kills with no errors on seven swings. In addition to her kills, Pollmiller also had 45 assists on the day to record her sixth double-double, while also sending three MSU attacks back, to tie a career high in blocks.

Along with Baker and Pollmiller notching double figures in digs, the tandem of sophomore libero Ellen Mullins and freshman Nikki Brice also played a huge part in limiting the MSU offense to hitting .150. Mullins led the team in digs with 15, while Brice tied a season-best mark of 11 digs.

"I was very, very proud of the defense we played," Patrick said. "I also thought we really won the serve and pass battle in this game. A lot of credit goes to Kelsey Robinson and Ellen Mullins. Kelsey took the majority of the passes, but Ellen also did a wonderful job of passing the ball and keeping us in system and we were able to hit over .300 as a team."

As a team, the Big Orange outhit State, .312-.150, while also outdigging the Bulldogs, 62-53.

The Lady Vols scored the first five points of the first set, and seven of the first eight, to take a commanding 7-1 lead early on. Three kills from Cikra, a kill from Robinson and Harrison and two Bulldog miscues propelled the UT run, as the team would never give up that lead.

Up 8-2, MSU would cut the lead to two, 8-6, before kills from Cikra and Robinson, along with a block from Baker and Kolosky gave Tennessee an 11-6 advantage. With the score 11-9 in favor of the Big Orange, the two squads would trade points until the score was 14-12.

At that point, the Lady Vols rattled off three straight, as Harrison and Baker combined for a block, Harrison had a blast and a State error made the score 17-12. The Orange and White would push their lead to six, 20-14, after Baker registered back-to-back kills.

Down the stretch, Robinson notched UT's final two points, both being kills, to give Tennessee the first set, 25-22. In the frame, Robinson had seven kills, while Cikra had five of her own. As a team, the Lady Vols outhit MSU, .405-.256.

Early in the second set, with the score tied at two apiece, the Lady Vols scored three-straight points, two of which were Kolosky kills to grab a 5-2 lead. A kill from Harrison and a block by Harrison and Baker kept the UT lead at thee, 11-8. Again up three again, 14-11, Mississippi rallied, scoring five straight to take a 16-14 lead.

A kill from Robinson and a block from Pollmiller and Kolosky knotted the set up at 16 all. The frame would again be tied at 18, 19 and 20 before it look liked Tennessee would close out the set. Down one, 20-19, the Big Orange used two kills from Cikra and two Bulldogs attack errors that found the net to take a 23-20 lead.

However, Mississippi State would score the next five to take the set, 25-23, and tie the match at 1-1. The second frame saw eight ties and three lead changes, as Cikra led the team offensively with 5 kills and hit at a clip of .556.

The break worked magic for the Lady Vols, who took charge in both the third and fourth sets and outscored the Bulldogs by 20 points in the final two frames combined.

Down 4-2, in the third, kills from Cikra, Robinson and Baker gave UT a 5-4 lead. The Lady Vols would never trail again in the set, as with the score tied at five, the Big Orange scored six of the ensuing seven points to take an 11-6 lead. During that streak, Kolosky had a pair of kills, Baker and Pollmiller each had a kill and Kolosky combined with Pollmiller and Robinson for a pair of blocks.

The Orange and White would score 10 of the final 15 points in the set, aided by a 4-0 run that started with the score at 18-14. A kill from Baker, a service ace by Jasmine Brown and two MSU attack errors pushed UT's lead to eight, 22-14.

Tennessee scored three of the final four points in the third, as a pair of kills from Robinson made the score 24-16, and a Cikra laser ended the set, 25-16, which also regained a 2-1 match lead for the Lady Vols.

Mississippi State would take an early 2-1 lead in the fourth set, but a Harrison kill sparked a 6-0 rally by Tennessee, as three kills, a block from Harrison and Baker and two miscues on the part of the Bulldogs gave UT a 7-2 advantage.

The Orange and White would push the lead to six on three occasions, 12-6 off an ace by senior Kelsey Mahoney, 13-7 after an overpass and a kill by Harrison and a Pollmiller kill made the score 17-11. Up four, 18-14, Kolosky would have a hand in Tennessee's final seven points.

A kill from Kolosky made the score 19-14 and ignited a 7-0 run to close out the match. With Kolosky at the service line and the scoreboard reading 19-14, the Bulldogs had three straight attack errors, while kills from Pollmiller, Baker and Harrison ended the match.

The team is again on the road next week, as it travels to Oxford, Miss., to face the Rebels on Friday at 7 p.m. CT, before a showdown with the Crimson Tide on Sunday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Ala., at 1:30 p.m. CT.

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