Tennessee 3, Eastern Kentucky 0

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Knoxville, Tenn. The Eastern Kentucky volleyball team saw its championship season come to an end on Friday night, as the No. 12 Tennessee Lady Vols hit .322 as a team (the highest mark by an EKU opponent this year) to take a 3-0 win in the first round of the 2004 NCAA Volleyball Championships.

Making just the second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history, the Colonels (27-5) saw this years berth end the same way the last one did. Tennessee (31-2) scored a 3-0 victory in Fridays first-round action, just as the Lady Vols had done to EKU back in 1984. The Colonels, who hit just 147 in the contest, held just one lead in the entire match, which came at the very beginning of the bout off a kill by freshman Amy Arlinghaus.

In her final match as a Colonel, senior Lesley Aldrdige posted team highs of 11 kills and 13 digs to pick up her team-leading 23rd double-double of the year. Aldridge ended her EKU career by reaching double-digits in kills for the 36th-consecutive match and was the only Colonel to do so against Tennessee.

Junior co-captain Liz Guard followed with nine kills and a team-high three blocks, while the freshmen duo of Arlinghaus and Shelly George chipped in seven a piece. Guard hit .333 in the match to bring her final season mark to .387, shattering the previous school record of .317 set by Sharon Moreno in 2001.

Freshman Brittany Nobilio added 12 digs for the Colonels, while sophomore Jessica Sabath, who entered the match with 997 digs, came away with eight digs to make her just the 12th player in school history to reach 1,000 career digs. Sophomore setter Kelly Jennings, who owns EKUs all-time assists record, registered 29 assists in the losing effort to take hold of Easterns single-season record by bringing her career total to 1,487 assists (passing Cathy Brett).

The hard-charging Colonels saw their late first-game run deflated by hitting errors, as Tennessee scored four of its last five points off EKU miscues to pull out a 30-24 victory. Arlinghaus opened the game with a kill to give the Colonels the first point in their second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. It would mark the last Eastern Kentucky lead of the match, however, as UT went ahead 15-11 and soon built its edge to eight points, 23-15, off a kill by Amy Morris. With her team on the ropes, Guard sparked a 7-1 EKU rally by capping off an impressive effort by the Eastern defense with a kill. A UT hitting error and a kill by Jennings pulled Eastern within five, 23-18, before the Colonels gave one back with a service error.

Trailing by six, 14-18, Eastern turned to Aldridge who responded by accounting for the next four EKU points (all kills). Aldridge capped off Easterns 7-1 run with her third-straight kill to make it 24-22, then followed a UT point with her seventh kill of the game to bring EKU back within two points (25-23). The valiant rally was deflated by consecutive hitting errors, which pushed the Lady Vols advantage back to four points (27-23). A kill by Jennings kept the Colonels hopes alive, but a Michelle Piantadosi kill and back-to-back EKU hitting errors brought the game to a 30-24 final. Aldridge accounted for nearly half of EKUs kills in game one, registering seven off 13 attempts (.538 percentage). The Lady Vols tallied 19 kills in the victory (with three players posting at least four kills) and hit .302 in the contest.

Hitting miscues again plagued the Colonels through the early goings of game one, helping UT run out to a quick 5-1 lead. Easterns third hitting error of the young game gave Tennessee a 8-3 edge, but a pair of kills by Aldridge and one from Arlinghaus brought EKU back within three (10-7). Unfortunately for the Colonels, UT would outscore its opponent 20-9 the rest of the way (thanks in part to a match-high .452 hitting percentage) to coast to an eventual 30-16 win. EKU trailed by just five points, 17-12, after a kill by George, but a 5-0 UT run pushed the game out of EKUs reach for good.

Tennessee opened the third game with four unanswered points and appeared to be on its way to another blowout. The Colonels, however, answered with three-straight points (including a kill by Guard and an ace by George) to cut its deficit to one. The two squads traded points over the next few minutes, with the Colonels trailing 9-8 after a kill by George. A second 4-0 run by UT put Eastern in a five-point hole (13-8) from which they would never recover. EKU tried to mount a rally, as an Aldridge kill cut the Lady Vols advantage to three points (20-17). Tennessee, however, came right back with another run shortly thereafter, (this one of the 6-0 variety) to go on top 27-18. Guard accounted for EKUs final two points of the match (both kills), but Sarah Blum put the finishing touches on the contest and EKUs season with her fifth kill of the night.

UT had three players reach double digits in kills, led by a match-high 13 from Michelle Piantadosi. Defensively, Cynthia Buggs paced the Lady Vols with 11 digs, while Blum accounted for a team-high four blocks. Tennessee goes on to face the winner of the 7:30 match between Texas A&M and Winthrop.

The Colonels hit a match-high .205 in game one and saw their hitting percentage decrease over each of the next two games (.152 and .091). At 27-5, Eastern Kentucky ends the season with the most wins by an EKU squad since the 1986 season, as well as the highest winning percentage in school history (.844). The OVC Champion Colonels will return all but one player in 2005.

-- Courtesy EKU