Tennessee defeats Ole Miss in four games

OXFORD, Miss. - The No. 17 University of Tennessee volleyball team (11-2, 2-1 SEC) extended its winning streak against Mississippi (8-5, 0-3 SEC) to 13 with a four-game, 30-27, 30-26, 24-30, 30-23, victory at Gillom Sports Center on Friday night.

"This was a very high level match," Tennessee head coach Rob Patrick said. "Mississippi forced us to play at a very high level and when we faltered they took advantage and capitalized with their aggressive play.

"We have a huge target on our back due to our success the previous two seasons," Patrick said. "Every team is giving us their best shot and I am very proud of how our team has responded to those challenges so far this year."

A number of Lady Vols either set or matched career highs in the win. Senior Annie Sadowski led all performers with 21 digs, the highest mark of her career and the most for the team this season while freshman Leah Hinkey tallied a career-best .526 hitting percentage (10-0-19). Sophomore Mindy Flynn collected a career-high eight blocks and fellow classmate Chelsea Noble tied her highest assist mark with 63 in the match.

Other statistical standouts for the Big Orange included seniors Sarah Blum and Kelsey Fautsch, as well as junior Yuliya Stoyanova. Blum led the Tennessee effort with a match-high 20 kills and nine blocks. She also posted a .444 attack average with just four errors in 36 attacks. Fautsch has now recorded double-digit kill totals in nine straight matches, after knocking out 17 in the win while Stoyanova fell just shy of her sixth consecutive double-double with 19 kills and eight digs.

"Our middle hitters, Sarah and Leah, played a very consistent match offensively, which allowed us to open up our offense," Patrick said. "Their play gave Yuliya and Kelsey seams to hit at. Chelsea should also be commended for doing such a terrific job of setting the right hitters at the right time."

The Lady Vols used a late run to move past the Rebels in the opening frame by the score of 30-27. Down 24-25, Tennessee proceeded to win six of the final eight points en route to gaining the one-game advantage. The Big Orange attack opened the match in full force, posting a .409 hitting percentage as a team.

Seniors Fautsch and Blum led the surge with seven and six kills respectively. Blum did not record a single attack error in nine attempts as she hit a team-high .667 in the set. Hinkey also posted impressive numbers, tallying four kills in seven attempts without an error for a .571 attack average.

Blum took over in the middle of the second game and propelled UT to a 30-26 victory in the set. The Tulsa, Okla., native sent back four Rebel attacks during a six-point span to give the Lady Vols a five-point lead at 14-9. Ole Miss did not give up, however, and fought back to tie the game at 15. Blum then decided that it was time to showcase her offensive skills, collecting four kills in the next 15 points to move her team back up five, 25-20. After a Rebel kill, the two teams traded the final nine points of the frame to account for the final score.

In the third game, the Lady Vols were unable to overcome a strong Ole Miss effort, dropping the set 30-24. It looked to be all Orange and White early on as they jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead, but that advantage quickly disappeared after the Rebels won six of the next eight scores to tie the game at eight each. A back-and-forth battle ensued with Ole Miss emerging with the 23-20 lead. Consecutive kills from Blum trimmed the advantage to just one, but the Rebels answered with five straight points of their own to put the game out of reach.

The Orange and White quickly seized the momentum back from Ole Miss at the beginning of the fourth game, claiming a 6-2 advantage for the second straight set. This time, the Lady Vols would continue to put the pressure on the Rebels as they extended that lead with runs of three and four points to go up 18-8 before the home team tried to halt the scoring spree by using its final timeout.

The tactic did not work as another four-point streak for UT, highlighted by three consecutive Blum blocks, gave the Big Orange what seemed to be an insurmountable 12-point lead. The scrappy Rebel squad just would not go away, however, as they cut the lead in half with six consecutive scores. In the end, Tennessee was able to hold off the attack and win the final set, 30-23.

The Lady Vols will stay in the Magnolia State as they travel to Starkville for a 1:30 p.m. CDT showdown with Mississippi State on Sunday. The match-up has been tabbed as the SEC Match of the Week.

The Lady Vol soccer team also in Starkville on Sunday for a game against Mississippi State.

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