Volleyball team falls in five-game battle

ATHENS, Ga. – In an extremely tight, five-game match, the Tennessee volleyball team (7-4, 2-2) could not overcome a strong Georgia (11-3, 2-2) attack, falling 30-25, 23-30, 30-28, 26-30, 12-15, on Sunday afternoon at the Ramsey Student Center.

Sophomore setter Jena Berg provided a bright spot for the Lady Vols in the loss, collecting her fifth-straight double-double with career-high totals in both assists and digs, with 56 and 24, respectively.

"This is a tough loss to take," UT head coach Rob Patrick said. "I thought we had some opportunities to take control of the match and we made some errors that stopped some of the momentum we had built up. My hat is off to Georgia. They played very good defense and made us play longer points than I thought we were going to have to play in this match.

"We will get back in the gym and work on becoming more consistent. What is great about this team is that every one of the players is very coachable. I know that they will work hard to get better as we prepare for Kentucky this week, which makes me very excited about the future of our team."

For the second time this weekend, sophomore Leah Hinkey led the Lady Vols offensively, tallying 14 kills and a .393 hitting percentage (14-3-28). Three other members of the squad also reached double-digits in kills, as senior Yuliya Stoyanova had a season-high 11 and junior Mindy Flynn and freshman Nikki Fowler each notched 10.

Defensively, sophomore libero Chloe Goldman led the team in digs for the 10th time this season, with a personal-best 28. Hinkey also recorded a team-best seven blocks in the contest, while Flynn posted six.

The opening portions of the initial frame saw both teams battle back-and-forth, before the Big Orange methodically took over, eventually claiming a 30-25 victory and the first lead of the contest. After a series of small runs by each squad, the score reached a deadlock at 17-all.

At that point, Hinkey smashed a kill that landed wide off the UGA block attempt, sparking a spree that saw the Lady Vols win six of the following eight points. Bulldog head coach Joel McCartney called a timeout that seemed to stop Tennessee's momentum, but the tactic only worked temporarily.

After Georgia scored twice in a row out of the break, UT regained control by scoring on five of the next six plays, including a three-point run featuring a blast from Flynn, an ace by Goldman and a block by Hinkey and junior Milan Clarke, to move the score to 28-22 in favor of the Lady Vols. The final two Orange and White tallies came on a kill by Fowler that split two Georgia back-row defenders and a Bulldog service error that landed long.

Despite a late rally, Tennessee was unable to overcome a large deficit incurred early in the second set, before falling 23-30 and heading to the locker room tied at one game each. Georgia came out on fire, putting together a pair of five-point runs early on to take a commanding 12-2 lead. The score remained separated by 10 points until the Lady Vols recorded five-straight points of their own to cut the advantage to five at 10-15.

After a pair of Georgia tallies, UT came right back with a hard shot by Hinkey down the right-side line, a block by Flynn and Berg and a Flynn kill to shrink the lead to just four at 13-17. That would be as close as the Orange and White would get for the remainder of the game, however, as the Bulldogs claimed seven of the next eight points to go up 24-13.

That did not stop the Big Orange from trying to make a comeback though. Down by 10 and facing match-point at 19-29, the Lady Vols got a three consecutive kills from Stoyanova during a four-point run. A UT service error ended the rally, however, and gave Georgia the game.

Following the intermission, the two teams engaged in a tight battle in the third game, with Tennessee edging out a 30-28 triumph. Neither squad could gain much of an advantage early, as they fought to a 13-13 tie. Georgia struck the first blow with a three-point spree that saw them record a kill, a block and an ace. After trading the next two points, UT responded with four-straight scores, including a service ace by Berg and kills by sophomore Farren Powe and Stoyanova, to take the lead at 18-17.

The Bulldogs went back ahead shortly thereafter, taking advantage of a pair of Lady Vol attack errors and getting a putaway by Maria Taylor, to go up 24-21. Patrick then took his first timeout of the frame to settle his team down and get it reorganized for another run.

The maneuver worked like a charm, as a sharp cross-court kill by Hinkey to the back-left corner of the court marked the beginnings of a six-point run. During that span, the squad also got a pair of aces from Fowler and kills from Clarke and Berg. With the score now at 27-24, Georgia made it interesting by winning four of the following six points. A service error on match-point, however, allowed the Orange and White to go ahead two games to one.

Another hard-fought game ensued in the fourth set, but Georgia emerged victorious this time by a score of 30-26. With the Big Orange leading at 16-15 following a block by Hinkey and Flynn, the Bulldogs strung together a trio of scores to take a lead it would never relinquish. Ten plays later, with UT now down by two at 21-23, UGA rattled off another three points in consecutive fashion.

The streak ended when Clarke blasted a hard cross-court kill, but the Lady Vols could not keep the momentum on their side, serving the next ball into the net. Trailing 23-29, Tennessee tried to mount one final rally, as Clarke and Fowler smashed out back-to-back kills and Berg served an ace, but a Georgia timeout and a Taylor tip past the block ended the frame and all UT hopes.

The fifth and final game saw the Orange and White jump out to an early lead but it was unable to hold on in the end, dropping the set, 12-15, and the match three games to two. Right off the bat, Tennessee put itself in a good position, taking a 4-1 lead behind the strength of a Flynn kill and an ace by sophomore Jaye Loyd that hit the top of the net and just fell over onto the Bulldog side of the court.

A timeout by McCartney immediately ended the run and allowed his team to slowly work its way back into the frame. With the score at 10-8 Lady Vols, Taylor's 30th kill of the contest cut the advantage to one. UT moved the lead back to two on a UGA miscue, but back-to-back Tennessee errors and a smash by Erica Clark that fell wide off the block gave Georgia its first lead of the set at 12-11.

Following a Patrick timeout and a Flynn kill, the score returned to a tie, but the Bulldog offense proved too strong for the Orange and White, as two Clark putaways and a sharp shot by Taylor just inside the left-side line ended the game and match.

The Big Orange will return to the court with its first mid-week contest of the season, Wednesday, Sept. 26, when it makes a quick trip to Lexington to face Kentucky at 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. The Orange and White will then return home for a 1:30 p.m. showdown with Arkansas on Sunday, Sept. 30.

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