Lady Vols win Comcast Classic

With a 3-0 sweep of Indiana, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (3-1) claimed its fourth consecutive Comcast Lady Vol Classic title Saturday night at Stokely Athletics Center. Sophomore Leah Hinkey was named the tournament's MVP, while junior Milan Clarke and sophomore Chloe Goldman earned mention on the all-tournament team.

"I can't say enough about how proud I am of our team right now," UT head coach Rob Patrick said. "Once again, we competed at a very high level throughout the entire match. I was especially pleased with the toughness we showed at the end of the third game when we weren't playing our best volleyball. We dug down deep and stayed mentally strong when Indiana had the momentum and was playing really well.

"We are getting out of our non-conference matches exactly what we want to, in that our young players are gaining valuable match experience and we learning what we need to work on in order to get better.

"Overall, this tournament was fantastic," Patrick added. "There was a lot of close play and extremely hard-fought matches all weekend. We had four amazingly athletic teams here and that will only help us become even more prepared for our strong Southeastern Conference schedule."

Hinkey, the tournament most valuable player, was amazing throughout the entire tournament and her all-around game was vital to the Lady Vols' success. The Glenwood Springs, Colo., native was one of four UT players to eclipse the .300 hitting percentage mark, blasting out a .509 average (32-5-53). She also finished second on the team in both kills (32) and aces (7) and third in blocks (9) and total attacks (53).

"I really felt that Leah was going to take a huge step forward in her development this year, so I'm not surprised at what she has accomplished, no matter how amazing it is," Patrick said. "Her hard work and determination have really made a difference so far this season."

Clarke also had a spectacular tournament on the offensive side of the net, as she tallied a team-best 36 kills and 70 attacks. The Santa Monica, Calif, product registered a stellar .371 hitting percentage (36-10-70) to go along with six digs and six blocks. Her mention on the all-tournament team marks the second time she has earned such an honor this season, as she was also named to the AVCA Showcase All-Tournament team in Omaha, Neb., on Aug. 24-25.

"The thing that I am most happy about with Milan is the fact that she is becoming more consistent that I ever believed she would be at this point in her career," Patrick said. "She has also really stepped up and become an emotional leader on this team."

From the libero position, Goldman was, arguably, UT's best defensive player. The native of Monterey, Calif., collected 4.56 digs per game, finishing with 41 total. She also played a crucial role in the passing game, passing at a .971 clip with only one reception errors in 35 attempts.

"Chloe has taken over the libero role and anchored our defense from day one with her energy and enthusiasm," Patrick said. "I was glad to see her recognized for her solid play both defensively and in the passing game this weekend."

Not to be shortchanged, junior Mindy Flynn put together a pair of solid performances as well. She hit .484 for the weekend with 18 kills and just three errors in 31 attacks, in addition to registering a team-best 16 blocks. Against the Hoosiers, Flynn hit an even .700 (8-1-10) to set a new career high.

"Mindy does what she does," Patrick said. "She may be the only player that is able to quietly hit .700 in a match for us. She has given us exactly what we need from her so far this year.

"The key to our success this weekend was that everyone is beginning to understand their roles on the team and play as a cohesive unit."

The Lady Vols wasted no time jumping ahead of Indiana on the scoreboard, going up 3-0 in the first game following kills by Flynn and Clarke and an IU miscue. The Hoosiers, however, fought back and tied it up at three apiece with a short run of their own. The score remained close until UT strung together five consecutive scores, including a pair of kills by sophomore Farren Powe, to move ahead 11-5.

Later in the set, the Lady Vols, up 15-10, scored on eight consecutive plays to put the game out of reach. During that stretch, Hinkey recorded three kills, while Clark and Goldman each added one of their own. For the frame, UT out-hit IU, .486 to .194 and had 21 kills to the Hoosiers' 12.

In the second frame, Tennessee once again claimed the early lead, going ahead 10-3 after an Indiana attack error. Indiana did not give up, however, and was able to shrink the lead to four at 22-18, but the Lady Vols would not let the score get any closer than that the rest of the set. UT closed strong, winning five of the final seven points. Once again, the Big Orange was amazingly efficient on offense, hitting .447 and knocking out 20 kills. Its defense was not too shabby either as UT players dug up 22 Indiana attacks in the set.

The most tightly contested game was also the last one, as UT finished off the sweep with a 30-26 win in the third frame. Trailing 17-22, Patrick elected to sub in junior Laurén LaFlamme to serve for his squad. The decision proved to be a wise one, as the Byron, Calif., native sparked a three-point run that put the Lady Vols right back into the game. Tennessee used the energy provided by LaFlamme to win 13 of the final 17 points, pick up its third sweep in two days and claim the Comcast Lady Vol Classic title.

It does not show up on the stat sheet, but Lauren may have given us the biggest lift of any player in this match," Patrick said. "Her serving late in game three was solely responsible for igniting our comeback."

Earlier Saturday the Lady Vols out-lasted Belmont (3-3), 30-28, 32-30, 30-23.

"I was pleased with how hard we played this morning," Patrick said. "Belmont challenged us with its great defense and low-error play. I was proud of the way our team pushed through and came away with the win."

UT was led by 14 kills from Hinkey as she established a career-high in hitting percentage, at .619 (14-1-21), to break her old mark of .526 (10-0-19) set last season at Ole Miss. Hinkey also collected four blocks and an ace in the victory.

"Leah is an extremely versatile player for our team," Patrick said. "She does everything well on the court. On any given day she can lead us in virtually any statistical category, so that allows us to utilize different line-ups in different situations. She also plays a very strong leadership role, which is vital for our program."

Clarke and Powe added 12 and 10 kills, respectively, while sophomore setter Jena Berg set a new career-high for assists with 42 helpers in the UT sweep. Defensively, Goldman recorded 15 of Tennessee's 51 digs. For the match, Tennessee managed a .272 hitting percentage to Belmont's .189, out-blocked the Bruins, 12-2, and out-dug its opposition, 51-38.

The Bruins were guided offensively by 17 kills from junior outside hitter Cat Mundy. Junior Emily Cahill (11) and freshman Carly Frazier (10) also achieved double-digits in the category.

The Orange and White will be back in action next Friday when it travels to Champaign , Ill. , for the State Farm Illini Classic. UT will open the competition at 4:30 p.m. CT against Creighton. Depending on the outcome of that match, the Lady Vols will play at either Noon or 3 p.m. CT the following day.

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