"There are no easy matches in the SEC, so I'm excited about the victory," UT head coach Rob Patrick said. "We played a little uneven throughout the match, but I like how we kept plugging away. Eventually, some good things happened and we were able to break Mississippi State's ball control with some tough serving.
"I was also glad to see our outside hitters do a much better job today of putting themselves in positions to be successful offensively. I also thought Jena (Berg) did a terrific job of managing the game by setting the right hitters at the right times."
Sophomore Jena Berg and freshman Nikki Fowler each posted double-doubles for the second consecutive match, while junior Mindy Flynn tallied a season-high 16 kills in the contest. Berg recorded her fifth double-double of the season with a career-high 54 assists and 17 digs, and Fowler marked the second of her young career with 13 kills and 10 digs. Second-year Lady Vol Farren Powe also set a personal-best during the contest with 14 kills, in addition to leading the team with a .458 hitting percentage (14-3-24).
Sophomore libero Chloe Goldman continued to pace the team defensively, digging up a squad-best 26 Bulldog attacks, while fellow classmate Leah Hinkey and Flynn topped the team in the block category with four each. Goldman has now led the Big Orange in digs in eight straight contests, missing out in only the initial match of the season against No. 1 Nebraska.
Tennessee looked sluggish at the opening of the match, but was able to right itself in time to pull out a 30-22 victory in game one. Struggling to get anything going offensively and trailing Mississippi State, 7-12, the Big Orange looked as if it might be in a bit of trouble. That changed in a hurry, however, as UT got a kill from Flynn, two in a row from Powe and a sharp block by the duo to move within one at 11-12.
Just eight plays later, an MSU miscue gave the Lady Vols their first lead of the match at 16-15, prompting a timeout by Bulldog head coach Tina Seals. Although her squad was able to tie the match on the first point out of the break, it was unable to keep the Orange and White down, as a Fowler smash, an ace by sophomore Kylie Marshall and consecutive blasts by Hinkey put UT up for good. During the frame, Powe hit at an amazing .833 clip with five kills and no errors in six swings.
Both teams were evenly matched throughout most of the second set, before Mississippi State jumped ahead late to tie the contest at one-game each, with a 30-26 win, heading into the intermission. With Tennessee ahead 16-13, a three-point Bulldog spree, featuring a kill, a block and an ace, knotted the frame up. After the two squads traded the following seven points, MSU embarked on another run, this time for four scores, to go up 23-20.
Despite cutting the lead to one on two different occasions, UT could not overcome its opponent and dropped the set. For the second straight frame, Powe topped the team with five kills, while Goldman added a squad-best seven digs.
The Lady Vols used four runs of three or more points in the third frame to overwhelm MSU, 30-20. The first such streak came with UT down 3-6, as a Marshall blast, a Bulldog ball-handling error and a kill from Fowler tied the game at six-all. The score remained deadlocked until another three-point spree, sparked by a pair of Flynn kills, moved the Orange and White up 11-8.
After a Mississippi State score, the Big Orange utilized another Flynn laser, three MSU errors and a service ace from sophomore Jaye Loyd to take a seven-point advantage at 16-9. Later on in the game, junior Laurén LaFlamme's strong serving helped the Lady Vols' put it out of reach with six consecutive points and earn its largest advantage of the day at 25-14.
The fourth and final set saw Tennessee jump ahead early and never look back, en route to a 30-25 triumph. After a kill by MSU's Jamie Joyner cut the Lady Vol advantage to one at 8-7, UT put together three-straight points to take a lead it would never relinquish. The Orange and White extended its advantage from two (12-10) to seven (17-10) in a very short amount of time, with a five-point spree book ended by kills from Hinkey and Berg.
The Big Orange would not let the Bulldogs get closer than four points for the rest of the match, claiming its first conference victory of the season and 700th win in program history. UT is now 700-459-16 all-time.
The Orange and White will hit the road next weekend when it travels to the Yellowhammer and Peach States to face Auburn and Georgia on Sept 21 and 23, respectively. The Lady Vols match against the Tigers is scheduled for a 7 p.m. CT start, while first serve versus the Bulldogs is set for 1:30 p.m. ET.
LADY VOL SOCCER: The UT soccer team and USC finished in a scoreless tie, despite 110 minutes of play in the final match of the USC Tournament. The Lady Vols recorded their first tie and second consecutive shutout of the season.
"My objective in my non-conference schedule is to challenge the girls in many different ways and, on this trip, we were able to travel cross-country and play two very high level teams," UT Head Coach Angela Kelly said.
Junior goalkeeper Jaimel Johnson led the Orange and White in the shutout, making eight saves on USC's 19 total shots. The shutout is the ninth of Johnson's career, moving her to third all-time on the Lady Vol career records list.
Though there was plenty of action, neither team found the back of the net or had many chances in the box in the first half. The ball spent plenty of time in the midfield, with both defenses halting any quality opportunities produced by the opposing offenses. Both teams took just two corners in the first 45 minutes.
The Lady Vols controlled possession in the midfield through the first 20 minutes of the half, but could not get an offensive rhythm going, taking just three shots, none of which were on frame. The Women of Troy followed, taking control to end the first half, finishing with four shots. Johnson needed just one save to hold USC scoreless in the first frame.
Both teams came out of halftime fired up, taking 15 combined shots in the second half. The game became more physical in the second 45 minutes, with Tennessee committing 10 fouls compared to four by the Women of Troy.
USC held possession for a good portion of the second half, taking eight shots on goal and forcing Johnson to make seven saves, including two on three consecutive corners for USC in the 80th and 81st minutes. Johnson was excellent in the second half, facing 11 shots and making a several great saves just on the edge of the goal line.
The Women of Troy continued to control possession in the two overtime periods, taking four shots to the Lady Vols' three. Johnson made just one save in the final 20 minutes of the match.
"USC is the best team we've faced thus far," Kelly said. "They were physical and emotionally invested in this game and committed to being successful. It was an exciting game and it challenged us in ways that I was hoping it would.
"It definitely prepared us for anything that we may face in our conference play. Jaimel Johnson was an absolute stud in goal. For all those reasons, we're excited to move forward and leave Southern California without a loss."
Southern California goalkeeper Kristin Olsen needed just two saves to record her second consecutive shutout. USC midfielder Ashley Nick led the squad with five shots, while forward Amy Rodriquez and defender Janessa Currier led the Women of Troy with three shots on goal.
Tennessee continues its season-long five game road trip Friday, Sept. 21 at UNC-Greensboro. Kick off with the Spartans is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.