Volleyball falls in five-set match

CLEMSON, S.C. – Playing in its school-record fourth straight five-set match, the Tennessee volleyball team fell just short in its bid to take out Clemson in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday evening at Jervey Gym.

The Lady Volunteers finish the 2008 campaign with a 22-10 record, doubling their win total from last season. With 11 more victories this year, UT recorded the third largest turnaround in NCAA Division I.

"First of all, I would like to congratulate Clemson on a great match," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "They were very physical at the net and are extremely talented. We stuck to our game plan pretty well but we just had a few too many unforced errors to win a match against such a good team.

"I do not want this loss to take away from the absolutely great season that our team had," Patrick added. "In my 12 years at Tennessee, I have never had a team improve throughout the course of a season as much as this one did. We fought our hearts out, not only tonight, but this entire season. As a coach, I really can't ask for anything more."

Sophomore Nikki Fowler recorded her seventh double-double of the season and 18th of her career with a match-high 19 kills and 13 digs. She also had two aces, two assists and a block in the contest.

Also reaching double-digits in kills was senior Milan Clarke who tallied 13 putaways in the final match of her collegiate career. The Santa Monica, Calif., native also notched three digs and four blocks.

"Nikki has been our go-to player all season and she proved it again tonight," Patrick said. "People always talk about how many kills she has, but I can't stress how great she is in all of the other aspects of the game, whether it is passing, digging or blocking. She does it all for us. The impact that she has had on our program in just two years is hard to put into words. It is almost unbelievable.

"I could not be more proud of what Milan has accomplished this season," Patrick said. "Just like our other seniors, Mindy Flynn and Laurén LaFlamme, she has really stepped her game up to another level as a senior and is playing the best volleyball of her career. Her match tonight was indicative of that."

Juniors Chloe Goldman and Kylie Marshall paced the squad defensively with 27 and 20 digs, respectively. Marshall finished just one kill away from a double-double as well with nine kills to go along with four blocks, three aces and an assist. Goldman moved into second place on the UT single-season digs chart, finishing her junior campaign with 511 scoops to move past former Lady Vol Amy Morris' total of 506 set in 2005. She trails only her own single-season mark of 628 which she set last year.

Also standing out on the stat sheet were freshman Kelsey Mahoney and junior Michaela Hanakova who had dig totals of 12 and 11, respectively. Freshman Alyssa Hilby, meanwhile, tied her career high with eight blocks and junior Farren Powe tallied four putbacks.

Overall, it was a successful season for the volleyball program. Patrick was named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and Fowler was the only unanimous selection to the All-SEC First Team.

"I am extremely excited about both of these awards," Patrick said. "I'm especially happy that the coaches around the league took notice of Nikki's play this season. For her to be the only unanimous selection to the first team says a lot about what she has accomplished this year. She has been terrific in virtually every facet of the game and I am very excited about having the opportunity to coach her for two more seasons."

Coming off SEC Freshman of the Year and All-SEC Freshman Team honors in 2007, Fowler finished the 2008 campaign ranked second in the conference with 3.80 kills per set. For the year, she leads UT in kills (408), kills/set (3.61), attacks (1082), points (471.5) and points/set (4.17). She is also second on the squad with 22 aces, third with 265 digs (2.35/set) and fourth with 76 blocks (0.67/set). Fowler has reached double-digits in kills in 21 of 31 matches, leading the team on 21 occasions. She currently ranks third in the UT career record book with 9.57 attack attempts per set and eighth with 3.44 kills per set during her two years at Rocky Top.

"I'm very humbled to be chosen the coach of the year," Patrick said. "I really see this award as a tribute to the terrific job that our entire coaching staff has done this season. I can't say enough about the jobs that Gregg Whitis, Katie Noble and Philip Bennett have done. Without them, this would not have been possible. It is also very gratifying to know that this honor comes from a group of colleagues that I respect greatly. Every single coach in the SEC is very talented, and there are a number of very deserving candidates for this award this season."

The SEC Coach of the Year award is the second of Patrick's career, as he also took home the honors following the 2004 season. Under his direction, the Lady Vols have made the third-largest turnaround in NCAA Division I, doubling their win total of 11 in 2007 to 22 in 2008.

Tennessee finished the regular season strong, winning 12 of its last 13 matches, including nine straight victories from Oct. 14 to Nov. 9. Patrick has reached the 20-win plateau in six of his 12 seasons at Rocky Top.

Earlier this season, Patrick became UT's all-time winningest coach, claiming his 230th career victory against Auburn on Oct. 3.

The Big Orange finished its SEC schedule with a 15-5 record, tying the school record for most conference victories in a season. Patrick, who has also been named the national coach of the year on two occasions, earning the distinction from CVU.com in 2004 and Volleyball Magazine in 2005, led the Lady Vols to a third-place finish in the SEC this season, marking the third time that they have finished in the top-three in the past five seasons. Tennessee finished tied with Florida for the league championship in 2004 and the 2005 squad earned a second-place finish en route to a berth in the NCAA Final Four.

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