The Lady Vols will take on the Bulldogs in the Newell-Grissom Building at 7 p.m. CT on Friday, before matching up against the Crimson Tide at 1:30 p.m. CT two days later in the Coleman Auxiliary Volleyball Extension.
The Orange and White is coming off of three consecutive solid performances, including a thrilling, five-game victory over then-No. 18 LSU on Friday, Oct. 12, that snapped a five-match winless streak. Although UT dropped its next two contests, a five-game heartbreaker against Ole Miss and a four-game battle at Louisville, it showed tremendous progress and looks to build on those performances this weekend.
Sophomore Chloe Goldman put together one of the most dominant defensive runs in school history with 85 digs in the three-match span. The 5'6 libero opened the weekend with 37 digs against the Fighting Tigers, putting her name second in the UT record books for most digs in a single-match. The only player to have more was Amy Morris with 42 at Notre Dame on Nov. 26, 2005. Goldman's total also stands as the most by any player in the SEC this season.
The Monterey, Calif., product did not stop there, however, following up that effort with a 23-dig performance against Ole Miss and 25 digs in just four games at Louisville.
Offensively, freshman Nikki Fowler provided the fireworks for the Big Orange, pounding out 42 kills, including a team-high 20 versus LSU. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, Fowler notched consecutive double-doubles, adding 12 digs against the Tigers and recording 14 kills and 10 digs in the contest versus Ole Miss.
For the season, Fowler and sophomore Leah Hinkey have been the squad's most effective offensive weapons. In her rookie campaign, Fowler leads UT with 202 putaways and 609 swings, while Hinkey has hit at a team-high .280 clip, smashing out 193 kills of her own. Goldman continues to stabilize the team's defensive game, as she ranks third in the league with 5.20 digs per game. Hinkey has also provided a solid net presence this year, averaging 1.30 blocks per frame, good for sixth in the SEC.
Tennessee has dominated the all-time series with Mississippi State, winning 33 of the 39 meetings between the two squads, including the last 15. The Bulldogs last win over UT came Nov. 22, 1996, at the SEC Championships in Columbia, S.C.
MSU features a four-pronged attack with a quartet of players averaging over two kills per game. Leading the team is junior Cristina Jucan with 3.57, while senior Jamie Joyner is just behind her at 3.26. With 246 and 235 total kills, respectively, those two players have accounted for 46.5 percent of the Bulldogs kills this season.
Defensively, senior libero Megan Lukasek tops the squad with 312 total digs and a 4.33 digs per game average. Those marks are good enough to rank her seventh in the SEC.
Mississippi State also utilizes a deadly serving game. With 2.04 service aces per game, the Bulldogs lead the league. A pair of MSU players are among the top 10, as Jucan is seventh with an 0.42 average and senior Eva Kriegel ranks fifth at 0.50.
On Sept. 16, the Lady Vols ran their winning streak over the Bulldogs to 15 matches with a 3-1 victory in Knoxville thanks to four players with double-digit kills. The win was UT's first of the SEC season and saw Nikki Fowler and Farren Powe combine for 27 putaways. Fowler also posted a double-double with 10 digs, while Powe hit .458 for the match.
After opening its season with a 3-6 record, Alabama has used its victory over UT in Knoxville on Sept 14, as a springboard for success, going 7-3 over its last 10 contests. The Lady Vols hold a 23-11 advantage in the all-time series with Alabama, but have dropped four straight, dating back to Nov. 19, 2005, at the SEC Tournament in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Pacing the Crimson Tide offense is senior Brigitte Slack, who is fourth in the conference with 11.64 assists per game. Her primary option this season has been classmate Crystal Hudson. The 5'11 middle blocker ranks fifth among all league performers with a .359 hitting percentage and 4.00 kills per frame. Fellow senior Bridget Fuentez has also been solid offensively with 3.53 putaways per game.
Freshman Mary Catherine Aune provides another weapon for the Tide, as she tops the SEC in service aces per game with 0.58. On defense, junior libero Amy Pauly tops the team with 394 digs. Pauly's digs per game average of 5.12 is fourth in the conference and is the main reason Alabama leads all SEC teams with 18.04 digs per game.
The Orange and White will be seeking revenge for a 3-0 loss suffered earlier this year at the hands of the Crimson Tide. In that defeat, freshman Nikki Fowler posted her first career double-double with 17 kills and 11 digs, while sophomore Leah Hinkey hit at a team-best .308 clip with 11 kills and just three errors in 26 swings. On defense, second-year libero Chloe Goldman dug up a team-high 16 Crimson Tide attacks, while fellow classmate Jena Berg added her fourth double-double of the season with 44 assists and 13 digs.
LADY VOL SOCCER: The Tennessee women's soccer team returns to the friendly confines of Regal Soccer Stadium this week following a four-match road trip.
UT welcomes Ole Miss on Friday night and Mississippi State on Sunday afternoon. The 13th-ranked Lady Vols enter the two-match home stand with a 9-2-2 overall record and a 4-1-1 mark in Southeastern Conference play.
The Orange and White are coming off their second weekend sweep of the league schedule after topping Kentucky, 1-0, in overtime on Oct. 12 and Vanderbilt, 3-1, on Oct. 14. The Lady Vols bounced back from an 0-1-1 weekend Oct. 5-7, to score four goals and hold their opponents scoreless during the run of play.
Freshman midfielder Tanya Emerson scored the first game-winner of her career in a 1-0 overtime win in the 95th minute at Kentucky. UT followed with another victory at Vanderbilt. Senior forward Emily Redberg, junior forward Kylee Rossi and Emerson found the back of the net for the Lady Vols, with Rossi scoring her third game-winner of the season. Emerson sealed the victory for UT after a Vanderbilt penalty kick cut the lead to one goal.
Ole Miss comes to Knoxville following an 0-2 weekend that saw it drop its first matches of the SEC season. The Rebels are 6-5-3 overall and 3-2-1 in league play. UT will be looking for its fourth win in five years against Ole Miss.
The Bulldogs enter the week with a 5-8-1 overall record and a 1-4-1 mark in the SEC. MSU recorded a 0-0 tie with South Carolina before falling to Florida, 5-0, last week. After a 3-2 loss to the Bulldogs last season, the Lady Vols will be seeking redemption this week.
Friday night's match with Ole Miss is set to begin at 7 p.m. at Regal Soccer Stadium. Sunday's 2 p.m. meeting with Mississippi State will be televised live on FSN South and SportSouth with Leah Secondo and Jenn Hildreth on the call.
Live statistics for both matches are available at UTLadyVols.com.