In their final home game at Tennessee, seniors Milan Clarke and Mindy Flynn led the Lady Vols to a hard fought , five-set victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks on Sunday.
Clarke contributed 17 kills and 4 digs in her final game on Rocky Top.
"I really wanted to make a bang at the end of my career here, so it was real exciting," Clarke said. "I couldn't have done it without my setter Micha (Hanakova). The passing was incredible and we all played really well as a team and they helped me get those kills."
Hanakova had 22 assists.
Flynn had 11 kills, seven blocks, and tied a career high with six digs. She was happy to get a win, but felt bittersweet about the game.
"I'm not ready to be done," Flynn said. "It's insane that I have two regular season games left in my volleyball career."
Clarke expressed similar sentiments about the final home game of her career.
"All three of them are playing the best volleyball of their careers right now." Coach Patrick on his seniors
"I was kind of emotional before [the game] because I was with my team, and it's sad because I've been playing with a lot of them for 3 years or 4 years. I'm just kind of taking it all in that this is my last game."
The Lady Vols won the match 25-27, 25-22, 26-28, 25-16, 15-10 to give them their 20th win of the season and their 10th in the last 11 matches.
It was not an easy win and Tennessee struggled in the first two sets. Coach Rob Patrick was prepared for a long match from the beginning.
"I thought it was going to be a long day after the first six points," Patrick said. "We had four or five hitting errors in the first six points of the match. Nothing got much better until the middle of the second set."
After dropping the first set, the Lady Vols fell behind early in set number two. With his team trailing 10-6, Patrick called a timeout to stop the bleeding. However, there were no changes in the gameplan that he could make to help his team.
"I told them there wasn't anything the coaches could do to help them," Patrick said.
"They had to start getting a little more mentally tough out there and taking care of the ball. I really put the responsibility on them that they had to get it done and they did."
The Lady Vols fought back following the timeout and took the lead 13-12 on an ace by Kelsey Mahoney. They went on to win the set 25-22.
Patrick felt that his attackers struggled with their hits early in the match and didn't capitalize on opportunities. The other aspects of Tennessee's game kept them afloat until the hitters found their groove.
"Our passing was very good and that kept us in the game when nothing else was working," Patrick said.
After narrowly losing the third set, the Lady Vols came out swinging in set four. Sophomore outside hitter Nikki Fowler had four kills early in the set to give Tennessee a 6-2 lead. Fowler and Flynn then combined to notch the final five points of the set to force a fifth game.
Fowler finished with a season high 22 kills thanks in large part to her setter, Kelsey Mahoney, who had a career high 34 assists. Fowler and Mahoney also had eight digs each.
"We had a bit of a mismatch there,"Patrick said. "South Carolina had a smaller defender where Nikki was hitting and Kelsey did a really nice job of getting the ball back to Nikki for her to get kills."
Tennessee finished off South Carolina (19-8, 10-7 SEC) in the fifth set to claim the match.
Bridget Denson-Dorman was all over the court for the Gamecocks. She had a season high 7 kills, and also contributed 54 assists and 12 digs.
Kylie Marshall and Chloe Goldman were instrumental to the Lady Vols win with their great defensive play.
Marshall dove all over the court while recording 16 digs.
"We needed every one of her digs to be successful today," Patrick said about Marshall.
Goldman, the libero, also played hard coming up with 24 digs, and coach Patrick felt that she was an important part of the win.
"Chloe, specifically, was really the one that kept us in the game, especially when we weren't playing well," Patrick said.
"Normally, to be honest, she's not really the calm one out there. She's got a lot of energy. I give her a lot of credit for being the calm presence on the court today, and controlling the ball in hard situations. She was in a way one of our MVPs for this match."
Tennessee's three seniors, Milan Clarke, Mindy Flynn and Lauren LaFlamme, were honored before the game. Patrick was proud of the job his seniors did this year.
"I can't say enough about these young ladies. All three of them are playing the best volleyball of their careers right now and that to me is a huge thing," Patrick said.
LaFlamme did not play in Sunday's game but she still plays a vital role on this Tennessee team.
"Even though Lauren doesn't play as much, she's as important as any player on the court, because what she does for our team in the gym and around our team outside of the gym has a lot of effect on why we're so successful," Patrick said.
The Lady Vols have two road games remaining on the regular-season schedule and they hope to secure an NCAA tournament bid. Tennessee will travel to Auburn on Sunday, Nov. 23 to take on the Tigers.