After a road win against Auburn Friday night, the Lady Vols (10-4, 1-1 SEC) lost to No. 20 Kentucky (7-4, 1-0 SEC) in four sets following communication errors and close battles at the net. Tennessee came up just short in its first Sunday matchup, which also marked the Vols’ first loss in Knoxville this season.
Both teams registered 55 kills in the match, with Tennessee only committing one error more than Kentucky. Despite near equal performance, the Wildcats proved their prowess in the last two sets by clawing out of deficits to win 25-22 and 25-23.
Tennessee got off to a hot start in the first set. Quick kills from outside hitter Tessa Grubbs, who again led the team with 15 kills, created momentum. However, four points in a row for Kentucky rattled Tennessee’s confidence. Two hits out-of-bounds, a serve into the net from middle blocker Erica Treiber and a net violation halted initial Tennessee rallies. Eight kills from Kentucky’s Leah Edmond bolstered the Wildcats’ attack as they took the set 25-17.
Determined to change the pace, Tennessee libero Madison Coulter launched a rally with an assist from Sedona Hansen for another quick Grubbs kill to start the second set. Hansen earned her third successive double-double in the match with 21 assists and 10 digs, five of which came in the second set.
Sophomore Addisyn Rowe proved the key for Tennessee in its only set win. Rowe led in blocks as Tennessee took the second set 25-20. Her soft, subtle kill to the Kentucky right corner put Tennessee up 5-2. A subsequent block forced Kentucky to take a time out before the Lady Vols pulled away to 16-9.
Kentucky crept back into the second set to 23-20. Coulter took the lead for Tennessee yelling, “high hands” to encourage freshman Lily Felts who then registered a kill to make the score 24-20 before Treiber’s capitalizing final kill.
“Madison Coulter and Erica Treiber are really good leaders in the locker room and on the court,” Felts said. “Outside of the court, in class, they’re just all around great people and players.”
Felts, a Knoxville native, fought for 14 digs in front of her home crowd of 1,270. A back-to-back kill and block from Felts brought Tennessee within two in a close third set, 13-11. Back and forth rallies at the net set up a chance for Tennessee at 22-21. However, Kentucky held on to take the third set 25-22 after a double contact call on Tennessee.
Tennessee needed to regroup as a team in order to win the fourth set and stay in the match. Teamwork showed in assist distribution, as six Vols worked for 37 assists. By the end of the third set, the Wildcats had earned 39 assists, 31 of which came from setter Madison Lilley.
However, final lack of communication from the Lady Vols resulted in a close 25-23 loss in the fourth set. Pivotal points created momentum for Tennessee to start the set with a kill from right side hitter Alyssa Andreno.
During a touch call challenge from Kentucky, the Pride of the Southland tried to maintain adrenaline in Thompson-Boling Arena by playing “Come On Eileen.” However, Kentucky tied the set at three points all. Evenly matched, both teams fought for the lead.
Felts again tried to defend her turf with consecutive service aces to put Tennessee up 15-11. Despite her efforts, out-of-bounds and double contact calls flustered Tennessee as Kentucky closed in 20-18. Kentucky tied the set at 22 off a blocked Felts hit at the net.
Tennessee head coach Eve Rackham challenged a touch call that would have tied the set at 23. The reversed call gave Tennessee hope at 23-22, but Kentucky’s Alli Stumler earned another kill. Stumler ended the day with 10 kills, second only to Edmond with 23.
Rackham and Tennessee challenged the match point saying Kentucky committed a net violation, but the point stood.
Tennessee’s first SEC loss this season marks Rackham’s first SEC loss at Tennessee. In her first year as a head coach, Rackham looks to build the program.
“We need everybody, ” Rackham said after the loss. “We need all six people who are out there, we need the seven, eight, nine, tenth person who subs in to do their job.”
With Missouri (12-2, 2-0 SEC) coming to town Friday, the Vols hope to hold each player accountable to combat a strong Tiger attack.
“We’re not asking them to do anything more than, first of all, what they’re capable of, and what we need them to do,” Rackham said. “We need everyone to play their role. I think that some of them are still learning that.”
Rackham said she did not think her team remained on the same page during Sunday’s match. She hopes each player will step up to contribute moving forward.
“What they do really, really matters,” Rackham said. “We need them to come in and play their positions at a high level.”
The Lady Vols take on Missouri Friday, Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in Knoxville.
Featured image by Lexie Little
Edited by Kaitlin Flippo