UT defeats MSU in four games

STARKVILLE, Miss. - The Southeastern Conference Match of the Week lived up to its billing as the No. 17 University of Tennessee volleyball team (12-2, 3-1 SEC) outlasted a tough Mississippi State squad (10-4, 1-3 SEC), winning in four games, 30-28, 23-30, 30-26, 30-28, Sunday afternoon at the Newell-Grissom Building.

"We came into a very hostile environment and fought hard to get this win," UT head coach Rob Patrick said. "Our outside hitters did a really nice job of keeping us in the match with timely kills and digs. At the end of the match, our blocking began to assert itself and I thought that our physical play at the net allowed us to close out the last two games.

"This team continues to find ways to win in adverse situations, despite not playing their best volleyball."

Three Lady Vols posted double-double efforts in the victory. Senior Kelsey Fautsch recorded her second in six days with 14 kills and 15 digs, while junior Yuliya Stoyanova collected her sixth in seven matches with 12 kills and 13 digs. Senior Sarah Blum's 14 kills and 11 blocks marked the third time this season that she has tallied double-digit totals in two categories.

"Kelsey sparked our defensive effort in the third game by the number of balls she was able to dig," Patrick said. "She also took some really nice swings on sets that weren't always perfect due to the tough serving of Mississippi State."

For the second consecutive match, senior Annie Sadowski led the team in digs with 17 while sophomore setter Chelsea Noble set a career high with five kills, surpassing her previous best of four set against both Virginia and Miami University this season.

In an extremely hard-fought first game, the Lady Vols were able to rally from an early deficit to claim a 30-28 victory. Following five consecutive scores from the Bulldogs, UT found themselves down by four, 10-6. A well-timed Patrick timeout helped to stop the scoring spree and allowed his team to slowly work its way back into the set. A streak in which the Big Orange won six of seven points trimmed the lead to just one at 17-18.

This time, it was a timeout from Mississippi State head coach Tina Seals that halted the momentum. Following the stoppage of play, her team extended its lead back to three with consecutive kills from Eva Kriegel.

Tennessee quickly regrouped, however, and fought its way back to a 26-26 tie after Fautsch unleashed a cross-court laser that landed just inside the line on the right side of the court. After another kill from Kriegel, consecutive Bulldog attack errors gave the Lady Vols the lead at 28-27. The two teams traded the next three points to account for the final score.

In the second game, it was the Bulldogs turn to ride a late rally to victory, as the Lady Vols fell 23-30. With the score deadlocked at 21, MSU proceeded to win nine of the set's final 11 points to tie the match at one game each. Freshman Kylie Marshall nearly matched her career-high of six kills in the second game alone, knocking out five in just eight attempts with only one attack error for a .500 hitting percentage. Fautsch and Blum added four apiece to go along with their first-game totals of five each.

After the intermission, both teams struggled to gain an advantage early before Tennessee took control midway through the frame. Down by a point at 11-12, a Leah Hinkey kill started a six-point run for the Lady Vols. After the Bulldogs ran off four straight scores of their own, UT answered by claiming six of the next seven to take a 23-17 advantage. The hard-working Mississippi State squad was not going away without a fight, however, and cut the lead to one on a Cristina Jucan kill. The Big Orange then responded with three consecutive scores to win the set and go up two games to one in the match.

An absolute battle ensued in the fourth and final game, with the Lady Vols emerging victorious 30-28. It was all Big Orange early, as they jumped out to a 5-1 lead behind the strength of two Blum blocks. The Bulldogs, however, took the hit and bounced back to tie the frame at nine. From that point on, the two teams traded punches until they found themselves all square at 28. Mississippi State's 16th service error of the match gave UT just enough room to squeeze out the victory as Fautsch won a joust above the net and slammed home the final point.

The Lady Vols will return to the court Sept. 29 when they travel to Auburn for a 7 p.m. CDT contest with the Tigers in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

From there, UT will move on to Gainesville where a 1 p.m. showdown with No. 10 Florida is set to take place in the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Oct. 1. Tennessee has won 10 straight against the Tigers and three of the last four versus the Gators.

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