Volleyball claims SEC championship

In front of the fifth-largest crowd in Tennessee history, 1,648 enthusiastic fans witnessed the No. 15 Lady Vol volleyball team knocked off No. 16 Kentucky, 3-1 (28-30, 25-20, 30-28, 25-18), to win the SEC championship outright on Wednesday evening.

"We knew it was going to be a great match," Lady Vol head volleyball coach Rob Patrick said. "My hat goes off to Kentucky, who really played a great match and put us on our heels. To be able to play such a quality opponent, such a well-coached team and be able to pull it out like that for an SEC Championship, it means a lot to our players.

It was a fantastic match and I'm proud of the players, as they were able to come back from an emotional first-set loss."

Tennessee has now won two regular-season titles in its history, with this being the first outright crown for the program. UT shared the title in 2004 and also has three SEC Tournament Titles to its credit.

The victory also marked 12 straight-wins for the Lady Vols, which is the fourth longest streak in Tennessee history. UT also defended TBA this season, going a perfect 13-0 in the friendly confines, while also breaking the overall and average attendance records for the fourth-consecutive year.

"This was incredible," Patrick said. "Obviously, most of the fans were Tennessee fans but we had a pretty big contingent of Kentucky fans also, which is fantastic. That is what college athletics are about. This was as high a level match that you're going to see in the NCAA.

"We wouldn't have been able to pull it out the way we did, if we didn't have the backing of the fans. They really pushed us through some tight parts of the sets and I can't thank them enough. Tennessee fans are the best fans in the country. "

On the evening, four Lady Vols hit .270 or better, in juniors DeeDee Harrison (.444) and Leslie Cikra (.370), sophomore Kelsey Robinson (.274) and freshman Shealyn Kolosky (.421). The Big Orange outhit the Wildcats .291-.205 and is now 25-1 in matches when out-hitting the opposition.

Robinson collected her 21st double-double on the year, registering a team-best 26 kills to go along with 13 digs. Harrison tied a season-best in kills against UK, totaling 15. Cikra and freshman Tiffany Baker also recorded double digit kills, as Cikra blasted 14, while Baker recorded a double-double with 12 kills and 11 digs.

Freshman Mary Pollmiller dished out 64 assists, which was the most in a four-set match this season. UT's 72 kills was also a season high in a four set match, bettering its previous-best output of 60 against Virginia Tech in September. She also tallied her seventh double-double, by adding 11 digs. This season, she has 13 matches of at least 50 assists.

Defensively, five Lady Vols recorded 10 or more digs, led by sophomore libero Ellen Mullins, who had 24. Freshman Nikki Brice was the other Lady Vol to record double digit digs, as she tallied 11 on the night, while also adding a team-best two serving aces. Kolosky led the team in block, sending five Wildcat attacks back, two of which were solo.

The opening frame was a seesaw battle throughout. The squads traded the first five points of the set before UK would score two straight to grab a 7-5 lead. Tennessee would score five of the next six to take a two-point advantage, 10-8, as Robinson had four kills and Harrison and Cikra combined for a block.

The Big Orange led by as many as four, 18-14 and 19-15, before Kentucky would cut its deficit to one, 20-19. UT and UK would trade the next six points, as UT held a slim 23-22 lead.

Kentucky would even things up at 23, but a kill from Robinson gave UT its first match point at 24-23. Kentucky would fight it off and three more to be exact, as UT had opportunities to close out the frame at 25-24, 26-25 and 27-26.

Kentucky took a one point lead, 28-27, but a kill from Cikra kept UT alive at 28-28. It was not meant to be however, as the Wildcats would take the next two and grab an early 1-0 lead in the match, winning the set 30-28.

The opening set was a battle of high potent offenses, as both squads hit over .300. The Lady Vols recorded six more kills but also had six more errors.

The teams split the first 10 points in the second set, as the frame was deadlocked at five early. During that span, Cikra and Robinson combined for three kills, in addition to a Kolosky solo block a UK attack error. Another attack error by the Wildcats plus a Robinson kill gave Tennessee a two-point advantage, 8-6.

The Lady Vols pushed their lead out to three, 11-8, after kills from Baker and Cikra and a Kentucky serve that went into the net. Kentucky would even the set up at 13, before back-to-back kills from Pollmiller gave the Big Orange the lead, 15-13.

The frame would be tied 15 and 16 before UK would take a 17-16 advantage. That's when the Orange and White took control, scoring six-straight points to take a commanding 22-17 advantage. During that run, Harrison had a pair of kills, Robinson added a blast, Cikra and Harrison combined to send a UK attack back and the Wildcats had two attack errors.

Up 23-20, a Harrison shot and an attack error wide by Kentucky's Whitney Billings ended the set, 25-20, and tied the match up at one apiece. The UT defense really stepped up, limiting a potent Wildcat offense to just .161, while hitting at a clip of .314.

Storming out of the gates in the third set, the Lady Vols quickly grabbed a 4-1 lead, aided by a pair of kills from Harrison and a laser from Cikra. Kentucky would not go down without a fight, tying the set up at points seven through eleven.

With the set tied at 11, UT scored four of the ensuing five, as Kolosky tallied a pair of kills along with a kill off the arm of Robinson and a UK attack error, making the score 15-12 and forcing a Wildcat timeout.

Kentucky responded out of the break, scoring the next three to even the set up at 15. The teams went back-and-forth until the match was 20-19 in UK's favor. A Kentucky miscue, a Robinson kill and a service ace by Brice allowed the Big Orange to regain the lead, 22-20.

A kill from Robinson gave the Lady Vols set point, 24-22, but the Wildcats scored the next two to knot the score at 24 all. Tennessee fought off a pair of set points, 27-26 and 28-27, before three consecutive kills from Cikra, Robinson and Baker ended the set 30-28 and gave UT a 2-1 lead in the match.

In the third frame, there were 17 ties and five lead changes, which was the most in any set of the match. Kolosky hit a blistering .556 in the set, as Tennessee outhit the Wildcats .246-.204.

The fourth set was one for the ages, as the Lady Vols fought through adversity in the form of UK jumping out to a quick 8-3 advantage. Following a timeout, a kill from Baker, a block from Baker and Kolosky and another Brice serving ace cut the deficit to two, 8-6.

Tennessee got to within three twice, 10-7 and 11-8, but the Wildcats pushed their advantage to five points at 13-8 and 15-10. From that point on, the Lady Vols overwhelmed UK. A Cikra kill sparked a 6-0 rally to give UT a 16-15 lead. With Mullins at the service line, Cikra blasted three more kills; Baker added one of her own along with a UK attack error that went wide.

Kentucky tied the set up at 16, but back-to-back kills from Baker and Robinson and a combined block by Kolosky and Baker gave the Orange and White the lead for good at 19-16.

After a Robinson kill made the score 21-18, the lone senior on the squad, Kelsey Mahoney, stepped up to the service line and closed out the set. The Lady Vols ended the match on a 5-0 run, as after the Robinson kill, UT took advantage of two Kentucky attack errors, another kill from Robinson and a blast from Harrison that ended the set, 25-18, and the match.

Tennessee clinched the SEC automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament with the win and will find out its fate on Sunday afternoon, as the NCAA Selection Show is slated to begin at 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

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