Lady Vols down Marshall at Pitt tourney

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Behind a strong overall performance from junior Yuliya Stoyanova, the No. 12 University of Tennessee volleyball team (7-1) swept Marshall (4-6), 30-21, 30-28, 30-26, Saturday morning at the Pitt Invitational in Fitzgerald Field House.

"I was very happy about how we started the match and that we brought both energy and focus to the first game," Coach Rob Patrick said. "We have been working to improve in that area and our team did a very good job of making that adjustment. When Marshall made runs, it was due to the fact that our energy and focus dropped. Fortunately, those instances were rare.

"Marshall made the decision to track our middle hitters with their blockers which allowed our outside hitters to have success. Yuliya (Stoyanova) did a very nice job of taking consistently big swings even though Marshall dug quite a few of our attacks from the outside. However, neither Kelsey (Fautsch) nor Yuliya got frustrated and they both continued to swing consistently."

Stoyanova posted her second double-double in as many days, with a season-high 23 kills and team-high 11 digs. The 2005 Honorable Mention All-American also set season-high marks with a .370 hitting percentage and six blocks.

Other statistical standouts for UT included senior Sarah Blum and sophomore Chelsea Noble. With eight blocks, Blum paced the team's defensive efforts. The Tulsa, Okla., native also played well offensively, recording 12 kills, giving her 31 for the tournament. Noble continued her solid play at the setter position with three kills and 46 assists.

The Lady Vols put the Thundering Herd in an early hole from which they could not recover, winning the first four points of the match as they staked claim to the opening game, 30-20. Stoyanova came out of the locker room on fire, knocking out 11 kills and hitting .421 (11-3-19) in the frame.

As a team, the Big Orange out hit Marshall .333 to .200 and had twice as many as blocks, eight to four.

In a hard-fought second game, Tennessee slowly battled its way to a 30-28 victory. UT earned a five-point advantage at 21-16 following a block by Stoyanova and Blum, but a scrappy Marshall squad just would not go away. The Thundering Herd wrangled their way back into the lead at 26-25 on a blast off the hand of Kelly-Anne Billingy.

The Orange and White, however, were able to withstand the furious attack and used a three-point run, capped by another sharp rejection by Stoyanova and Blum, to close out the set.

Although Marshall put up a strong effort, it was not enough to overcome the Lady Vols who pulled out a 30-26 win in the third and final game. Tennessee fell behind early, going down 7-6, but they rallied to win seven straight points to create an insurmountable lead.

Trailing 28-21, the Thundering Herd saw their hopes quickly fading away and mounted a last-ditch effort in which they claimed five consecutive scores to make it a two-point game. Once again, the Big Orange stood strong and back-to-back kills from senior Kelsey Fautsch and Stoyanova gave UT its seventh win of the season.

The Lady Vols will return to Fitzgerald Field House at 5 p.m. for the second game of the doubleheader when they will close out their stay at the Pitt Invitational against Lehigh.

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