Dec. 4, 2009

Courtesy of Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - With a 3-1 triumph over Duke (27-6), the No. 24 University of Tennessee volleyball team (24-7) advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in school history. The Lady Volunteers defeated the Blue Devils, 25-18, 25-23, 17-25, 25-12, Friday night at Thompson-Boling Arena and will play No. 11 Minnesota at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Sophomore Kayla Jeter and junior Nikki Fowler combined to blast out 35 of UT's 54 kills with totals of 18 and 17, respectively, to pace a strong offensive showing for the Big Orange. Fowler added 12 digs and seven blocks as well, to finish with her 15th consecutive double-double and 36th of her career. Jeter also posted a solid all-around effort, collecting six digs and three blocks.

The Orange and White got terrific offensive performances from both of its middle blockers as well, as senior Farren Powe hit at blistering .600 clip with nine kills on 15 errorless swings and junior Leah Hinkey tallied seven kills and just two errors on 14 attacks for a .357 hitting percentage. Hinkey also reached double-digits in blocks for the second consecutive contest with a match-high 10 putbacks.

Senior Chloe Goldman topped the squad with 20 digs, while senior Kylie Marshall finished second with 15 scoops to go along with five blocks, two kills and a pair of aces. As a team, Tennessee outhit Duke, .270 to .146, in addition to recording higher totals in kills (54-53), aces (3-2), digs (73-65) and blocks (17.5-9.0).

The match was played in front of the largest home postseason crowd in UT history, as 1,059 fans clicked the turnstiles on Friday. That betters the previous mark of 683 set against Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 3, 2004 and stands as the seventh-highest total for any home match in program history.

Jeter was the star of the first set for the Big Orange, notching seven kills and hitting .429 to lead UT to a 25-18 triumph. The Solon, Ohio, native recorded a pair of powerful kills to put the Lady Vols ahead 5-3 in the early goings. The Blue Devils never laid down, though, as they constantly chipped away at UT's lead.

Another pair of Jeter kills sparked a 4-0 UT run that lifted the Lady Vols to an 11-7 advantage, but Duke fought back to tie the set at 11-11 after a pair of UT errors. The Orange and White had another run, this time a 5-0 spree, in its bag, however, as it found itself back up by four at 15-11 thanks to a pair of Fowler blasts from the outside.

A kill by Becci Burling stopped the streak of five consecutive UT points, and sparked a 4-1 Blue Devils run, putting the score at 17-15. Tennessee responded immediately, however, jumping back out to a commanding lead behind two straight send-backs from Hinkey, who notched a solo block before combining with Mahoney to make a wall and increase the UT advantage to 19-15. Fowler then took over down the stretch.

With the Orange and White ahead 22-18 just moments later, the Dallas, Texas, product was responsible for the final three points of the frame. The first two came on blocks, as she joined forces with Powe to send back a Burling attack before stuffing Megan Hendrickson by herself. She then took a set from sophomore Kelsey Mahoney and slammed it to the hardwood to give the Lady Vols an early one-set lead.

The second frame started just like first ended, as Tennessee claimed the first two scores when Jeter tallied her eighth kill of the night for the first point before Powe and Fowler combined on a block for the third time in the match. Once again, the Blue Devils refused to go down without a fight though, never letting UT pull away in a set that featured 16 lead changes.

With the score tied 9-9, the Blue Devils could only fend off so many Jeter bombs as the teams battled for the 10th point. The sophomore's third attack attempt of the play tallied the score, and the two squads traded points and ties through the middle of the match.

A diving dig by sophomore Amanda Friday prevented Duke's first lead of the set on the 14th point, and yet another Jeter putaway extended the UT advantage to two scores at 15-13. In a repeat of the opening frame, the Blue Devils continued to keep it close behind the strong offensive play of senior Rachael Moss, only this time they were able to get over the hump when Amanda Robertson gave Duke its first lead of the set, and the match, on a blast at the net to make the score 18-17 and cap a 4-0 Blue Devil run.

Jeter answered with a soaring smash from the left side, but Robertson wasn't done, firing an attack that hit the net and bounced right in front of Goldman's outreached hand to keep the advantage with the visiting team. A Tennessee ball-handling error and another Robertson kill, her fourth of the set, put Duke ahead by three at 21-18. After back-to-back Lady Vol points, Fowler unleashed a cross-court laser from the left-side that tied the set and forced Duke Head Coach Jolene Nagel to burn a timeout.

Following the short stoppage in play, Duke's Christiana Gray broke the tie with a back-row blast and Burling extended it with a smash down the center of the court. Those would be the last points the Blue Devils would score in the set, however, as UT tied it right back up at 23-all behind a Powe slam to the back-left corner of the court and a combo block by Hinkey and Mahoney. After Hendrickson sent a rocket too far, Mahoney and Hinkey stopped a Duke shot with a devastating, set-ending block to give UT the frame by two, 25-23.

Following the intermission, the Lady Vols struggled to find their offensive rhythm, recording eight attack errors after having just seven in the first two frames combined. Duke was able to take advantage of the miscues, cruising to a 25-17 victory that forced the match into a fourth set.

The two squads battled back-and-forth throughout the opening portions of the frame before a 3-1 run, capped by a Fowler bullet, put the Lady Vols ahead 16-14 just past the midway point. With their season on the line, the Blue Devils burst from their huddle on fire following a Nagel timeout, claiming 11 of the final 12 points to run away with the set.

Determined not to have a repeat performance of the third frame, Tennessee raced out to a commanding 11-2 advantage in the fourth stanza and never looked back en route to a 25-12 triumph that allowed them to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Jeter and Hinkey simply took control, hitting .800 (4-0-5) and .571 (4-0-7), respectively, while Fowler pounded out three putaways with just one error on five swings for a very respectable .400 attack average. As a team, the Lady Vols were dominant, as evidenced by the fact that they hit .522 to the Blue Devils' -.065.

Tennessee quickly put to rest any thoughts of Duke's momentum shift carrying over into the fourth frame as dominant play from Hinkey at the net was the catalyst for a 6-1 UT lead at the start. Following a Fowler kill on the opening play, the 6-1 middle blocker sent one crashing down the center of the court and combined with Marshall to stuff Burling and give the Big Orange a 3-0 lead.

After Duke scored it first point of the set on the next play with a kill by Sophia Dunworth, the junior from Glenwood Spring, Colo., unleashed back-to-back smashes before joining forces with Marshall once again for an emphatic double-block on another Burling swing. The Blue Devil would win the battle on the next play, however, pushing one past the UT block to give Duke its second point and put the score at 6-2.

It would be even longer until the Blue Devils recorded their third point, as Marshall's twisting jump-serve befuddled the visiting squad. The senior scored an ace and Jeter and Hinkey combined for a block during a 5-0 run that put UT up 11-2. Duke gift wrapped two more points on back-to-back hitting errors to give UT its first double-digit lead, 13-3, and Fowler brought down consecutive hammers on the Blue Devils to increase the Lady Vols' advantage to 21-9. Just moments later, Jeter's match-high 18th kill of the night smashed down ending Duke's season, and extending Tennessee's 2009-10 campaign for at least one more day.

The Big Orange advances to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where it will square off with No. 11 Minnesota at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Gophers defeated Louisville in four sets prior to the UT-Duke contest. The winner of tomorrow's match will move on to the Minneapolis Regional, which is set to take place Dec. 11-12. The regional winners will then advance to the National Semifinals and Finals, hosted by the University of South Florida and Tampa Sports Commission at the St. Pete Time's Forum in Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 17 and 19.