KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – In a match that displayed collegiate volleyball at the highest level between a pair of top-20 ranked opponents and evenly matched offenses, the 15th-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols prevailed 3-1 (28-30, 25-20, 30-28, 25-18) over the 16th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team on Wednesday evening in Knoxville, Tenn.
With the loss, Kentucky falls to 26-5 and 17-3 in Southeastern Conference action. Tennessee improves to 27-3 and 19-1 and wins the SEC title outright with the victory. Kentucky, with a top-20 national ranking and an RPI at 13, is all but guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament for a school-record seventh consecutive season. UK’s fate will be announced on Sunday night.
Three players reached double-figures with sophomore Whitney Billings posting a team-high 14 kills on .367 hitting. Senior Becky Pavan notched 13 kills and had six blocks. Junior Ashley Frazier totaled 10 kills and has posted 10 or more in 22 matches this season.
Junior setter Christine Hartmann dished out 47 assists and had 10 digs for her fifth double-double effort of the season. Hartmann had an all-around spectacular performance with a team-high seven blocks, just one shy of her career-best.
Senior Ann Armes added seven kills and six blocks, while freshman Lauren O’Conner had eight kills and eight digs. Freshman Jackie Napper added eight scoops with sophomore Jessi Greenberg adding seven. Senior Gretchen Giesler had two block assists in two sets of action.
Junior libero Stephanie Klefot totaled 21 digs and has picked up 20 or more scoops in nine matches this season.
Tennessee, the league’s leading offensive unit, posted 76 kills on .291 hitting and added 75 digs. Kentucky totaled 54 hammers on .205 hitting and posted 69 digs. Kentucky had 15.5 blocks in the match and lost for the first time this season when totaling more blocks then the opponent. UK also dropped a match for the first time this season after capturing the opening set.
Needing to claim the fourth set to prolong the match, Kentucky opened up an 8-3 lead to begin the stanza. Pavan posted a pair of early kills and Hartmann combined with both Pavan and Giesler for a pair of blocks in the run. Trailing by five, Tennessee chose to use an early timeout.
The fourth block of the stanza from a solo rejection from Billings lifted UK to a 14-9 lead. A service error by the home team gave Kentucky a 15-10 advantage, but Tennessee responded in a big way with a 10-2 run in the middle portion of the frame to grab a 19-16 lead late in the set.
The Lady Vols continued to press and capped the set on a 15-4 run to claim the match with a 25-18 final set victory. Kentucky was limited to 10 kills on a .111 attacking clip, while the home team notched 16 on .316 hitting.
Pavan opened the scoring in the match with a kill. UK had four different players record a kill to start the match and earned an early 5-4 lead. Tennessee claimed an edge thanks to a 4-0 run to go up 10-9. The Lady Vols maintained their edge and stretched its lead to 15-12 and UK took an early timeout.
Out of the break, Armes and Billings teamed up for the first block of the match for the Wildcats. The Lady Vols answered with a kill and maintained a steady edge for much of the set. UK turned in a 4-2 run late behind consecutive kills from Billings and Hartmann to pull to within 20-19 and Tennessee opted for a timeout.
The Lady Vols were able to earn a kill to stretch the lead back to a comfortable two-point edge. The squads then exchanged kills and the Blue and White chose to take a timeout trailing 23-21. A service error from the Lady Vols brought UK closer and then a kill from O’Conner knotted the score at 24. Kentucky then saved set-point four times before the Blue and White earned its own set point following a kill from Billings to go up 28-27.
Tennessee chose to use its final timeout and responded with a saved set-point of its own. Billings then teamed up with Armes for the Wildcats’ third block of the set to once again earn set point. Billings then drove home her fourth kill of the frame for the UK win at 30-28.
Kentucky struck for 17 kills on a .311 hitting clip in the second frame led by five on a .500 clip from Pavan. Billings chipped in with four on a .444 percentage. Kentucky also totaled a pair of aces and three blocks to lift itself to an opening set victory.
Pavan and Hartmann combined for a block to open the scoring in the second set. The teams exchanged points back and forth until the Lady Vols earned a three-point edge at 12-9. UK clawed back and tied the score at 15 behind another Pavan-Hartmann rejection. UK earned its first lead since a 4-3 score with a kill from Frazier to go up 17-16. The home team answered with three straight points to recapture the advantage at 19-17 and UK took a timeout.
Out of the break, the Lady Vols rattled off two more points to earn a 21-17 lead and the Blue and White opted to use its final timeout of the frame. Tennessee hung on and grabbed the second set 25-20 after ending the stanza on an 8-3 run.
Tennessee charted 15 kills on .314 hitting and limited the Blue and White to 12 on a .161 percentage to capture the second set. Kentucky had four blocks in the frame, but committed seven hitting errors in the frame.
The Lady Vols opened the scoring in the third for the first time in the match. A kill from Frazier quickly answered. Tennessee then scored three consecutive points to earn a 4-1 lead early in the frame. Three consecutive kills including back-to-back from the hand of O’Conner knotted the score at seven. The teams then swapped points until the home team earned a mini run and claimed a 15-12 lead forcing UK to use its first timeout.
Out of the break, the Blue and White scored three straight points highlighted by a Pavan-Hartmann block to knot the score at 15. From there the teams literally matched one another kill-for-kill until the Lady Vols capitalized on two long rallies to break free for a 22-20 edge. Kentucky opted to take its second timeout of the stanza.
Tennessee reached set-point at 24-22, but the Blue and White stormed back to save set point twice including another combo block from Hartmann and Pavan. The Wildcats forced Tennessee into consecutive hitting errors to earn a 26-25 lead, and the Lady Vols chose to take a timeout.
The Lady Vols answered out of the timeout and the teams swapped points back and forth until Tennessee shook loose for a 30-28 win to go up 2-1 in the match. Kentucky posted 15 kills on .204 hitting, but the Lady Vols earned 22 on .246 hitting.
Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 9-10. UK is one of four sites selected for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas, from the Lexington Region. Opening night matches are scheduled for 5 and 7 p.m. ET. Saturday’s final is set for a 4:30 p.m. ET first serve.
Tickets are now on sale through the UK Ticket Office. All-Session Tickets are reserved for all ages at $14. General Admission tickets for adults are priced at $12 and students or seniors' general admission is slated for $8.
Single session tickets are priced at $8 for reserved for all ages. General admission for adults is priced at $7, with students and seniors priced at $5. Youth single session tickets are $4.
For tickets or more information feel free to call, 1-800-928-CATS.
Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the UK volleyball team and all of Kentucky’s 22 teams.