After losing the first set 25-18, Tennessee’s chances of upsetting No. 23 Kentucky (22-7, 15-3 SEC) seemed slim.
But the Vols (17-13, 7-10 SEC), who were previously 0-11 on the season after losing the first set in matches, rattled off three consecutive set victories to topple the SEC-leading Wildcats, 3-1, in the Vols’ final home game of the year.
Things looked bleak early for Tennessee early. The Vols could only muster a .091 hit percentage in the first set to Kentucky’s .265 percentage. SEC Freshman of the Year Leah Edmond was dominant for the Wildcats, who stormed out to a 15-6 first-set lead that they never relinquished. The Wildcats’ impeding front line forced several Tennessee attack errors en route to a 25-18 first set win.
In the second set, Erica Treiber and Kendra Turner enforced their wills.
Treiber, a sophomore, and Turner, a junior, combined for nine of the Vols’ 16 kills in the second set to lead a rejuvenated Tennessee attack. The Vols also got a boost from freshman Sedona Hansen, who recorded 13 assists in the set. Hansen, who ranks 14th nationally among freshmen in total assists, finished with a game-high 42 on the night.
The Vols put up a scorching .483 hit percentage in the set en route to 16 kills and a 25-19 set win to tie things at one set apiece. Tennessee’s defense held Kentucky to a .114 hit percentage in the second set, under half of what the Wildcats tallied in the first set.
Kentucky opened the third set with a 7-4 lead, but Treiber led the Vols on another scoring run. After going up 12-9, the Vols put the serve in Treiber’s hands, and she delivered. The sophomore gave Kentucky fits with service placements, and the Wildcats couldn’t get anything going against her.
The Vols capped a 14-2 run with seven straight points behind the serve of Treiber to open a commanding 18-9 lead in the crucial third set, and Tennessee held off the attack of hard-hitting Edmond and junior Kaz Brown to win 25-17 and take a 2-1 set lead.
Kentucky opened the fourth and final set with the lead, but couldn’t extend it to more than three as the Vols kept pace. Three straight kills from Turner sparked the Vols to pull back within 15-14 before the Vols took the lead for the final time with two quick points.
Then, Tennessee head coach Rob Patrick turned back to the reliable hand to serve.
Tennessee scored six straight points behind the serve of Erica Treiber to open up a 21-15 lead that the Vols wouldn’t relinquish. Tennessee finished the match with an 11-2 run, winning the final set 25-17 and beating its first top-25 opponent since a 3-1 win over No. 22 Arkansas in Knoxville on Oct. 15 last year.
Tennessee finishes the season at Missouri in Columbia on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Sumner Gilliam