Thursday, August 25, 2016

2016 Match Notes: Tennessee Volleyball Classic

After starting the season on the road the past three years, the Vols kick things off in Knoxville! The 2016 season begins tomorrow when UT meets Cincinnati in the Tennessee Classic. The next day they’ll face ULM and MTSU.

  • Rob Patrick is starting his 20th season as head coach of the Vols. With a really good year he can reach a couple of milestones. He’s 20 wins away from career #400 and 13 away from SEC win #200.
  • Since 1978, when complete season records are available, the Vols are 30-8 in season opening matches. In the opening week of the season the team is 83-33. Under Patrick the team is 15-4 in season opening matches and 49-9 in the opening week of the season.
  • Coincidentally, Tennessee is also 30-8 in home opening matches and 15-4 under Patrick.
  • When the Lady Vols open a season at home they are hard to beat — they’re 11-2 and have only lost once since 1978.
  • Tennessee has fared well in August matches, going 40-7 all-time and 16-1 at home.
  • The Vols face MTSU on Saturday. Against fellow state schools Tennessee is 136-29-4 all-time. Under Patrick the team is 25-4.
  • UT is 6-3 all-time vs Cincinnati. The teams have met only twice in the past quarter-century with Tennessee winning in 2012 and 2013.
  • UT is meeting ULM for the first time.
  • UT is 14-0 all-time vs MTSU. Tennessee won the first 12 meetings in the minimum number of sets, but in their last two matches in 2001 and 2002, MTSU pushed the Vols to four and five sets.
  • Cincinnati was chosen as the American Athletic Conference preseason champion by their league coaches.
  • Tennessee is 22-4 vs American Athletic Conference teams, 3-2 vs the Sun Belt Conference, and 9-2 vs Conference USA and since 2001.
  • Molly Alvey is very familiar with the Vols having coached against them almost every year since 2005: as the assistant and then associate head coach at Mississippi from 2005-2009, two seasons as head coach at Houston from 2010-2011, and in 2012 and 2013 as head coach of Cincinnati.
  • Another face on the Cincinnati coaching team is even more familiar with Tennessee volleyball. Assistant coach Kayla Jeter has been with the Bearcats for three years. Before that she was an All-America playing in Knoxville from 2008 to 2012. Her sister, Breana Jeter is a Vol redshirt freshman whose first time on the court could be against her sibling’s team.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

More 2016 preseason updates
  • In the SEC preseason poll Tennessee is projected to finish 9th according to the league coaches. Texas A&M is the favorite to repeat as conference champion, followed by Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri. This marks just the third time since 1994 that Florida has not been the coaches first choice, and the first time in that timeframe that someone other than Florida or Tennessee was the top pick.
  • Tennessee continues to post player profile videos. Since last time they’ve added Breana Jeter and Courtney Mueller.
  • The stat pages are up-to-date. Check out the new page for UT All-Americans and the updated instate players page which now goes all the way back to the 1970s!
  • ESPN has a dedicated page for volleyball now, and two pieces about the coming season. First is their annual five questions article which features a query about the SEC; then their top 12 players to watch, which includes two that Tennessee will face off against.
  • ESPN has also announced their expanded coverage of NCAA volleyball this season along with their lineup of commentators — many of whom have an SEC connection: Courtney Lyle – “previously called games on SEC Network + for the University of Tennessee”; Laura Bush – “former Auburn head coach and Minnesota associate head coach”; Jenny Hazlewood – “former Mississippi State head coach”; Maria Taylor – “three-time All-SEC at Georgia”; Missy Whittemore – “three-time Academic All-American at Florida”.
  • The newly launched online only Volleyball Magazine has a preview of the SEC season.
  • Volleyball Magazine has also started a new poll for schools outside the Power Five conferences. UT opponent Xavier comes in at #24 in the inaugural ranking.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

UT coach, players answer questions

Coach Rob Patrick and players Brooke Schumacher and Tessa Grubbs answered questions about the upcoming season at a press conference this afternoon. Check them out below:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kelsey Robinson, Olympic Bronze Medalist

Congratulations to former Vol Kelsey Robinson, who became one of only 51 women in Team USA history to win an Olympic (indoor) volleyball medal! Check out the American set points in the video below.

Friday, August 19, 2016

2016 Preseason updates

I still can’t believe we’re just a week away from the first serve of 2016! I’m slowly but surely getting things back up and running around here. The schedule, archive, and SEC pages are up to date. The roster and stat pages are next on my list. And there is a lot of news you don’t want to miss.

  • The Vols are posting player profile videos every day. So far we’ve seen newcomers Sedona Hansen, Alyssa Andreno, and Tessa Grubbs.
  • UT’s annual preseason scrimmage is open to the public this Saturday at 6pm at the Joan Cronan Volleyball Center.
  • The first AVCA Coaches Poll of the season is online. Four Tennessee opponents make appearances on the list: Florida ranked 10th, Texas A&M 16th, Kentucky 24th, and Missouri receiving votes.
  • Tennessee matches will air on television seven times this season — four times on ESPNU and three times on the SEC Network. That’s the most they’ve ever been broadcast in the regular season, and ties the number of times they were on TV in 2005.
  • The promotion schedule for home matches this season in online (PDF).
  • Tennessee and the other SEC schools are implementing new policies for what can be brought into athletic venues. Fans can only carry one small, clear bag with them. No camera bags, no diaper bags, and no regular purses are allowed (small, handheld clutch purses ore OK). In addition, only small cameras will be permitted and they have to be carried in your hand, around your neck, or in a clear bag. A few years ago the SEC caused an uproar when they tried to ban fans from posting pictures to blogs and social media from sporting events, and they eventually had to backtrack. Looks like they’ve found a new way to bring back that policy under the guise of “security”. Small cameras and phones might be fine for posting pictures of you and your friends in the stands. But they’re not good for fast action, on a court/field far away, and in imperfect lighting.

Look for lots more links of interest and site updates in the days to come.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tennessee volleyball at the Olympics

The dream of most aspiring athletes is to represent their country at the Olympic Games. Two former (Lady) Vols have had that experience, and both share some attributes besides wearing both the orange & white and the red, white, & blue. Both started their love of sports in Illinois — one on the southwest side of the state near St. Louis and the other on the northeast side of the state near Chicago. Both played basketball in high school. During their four years of eligibility, both played at another college besides Tennessee. Both earned All-Conference honors for the Vols and at that other college. Both led their teams to SEC Championships. Both were All-Americans. And they both share the same last name!


beverlyBeverly was a member of the Tennessee volleyball team in 1982 and 1983. She spent her first two seasons at Alabama before they dropped their volleyball program. She wasn’t in Knoxville long but she left a lasting legacy.

  • 1982 SEC Champions
  • Two year W/L Record: 62-17 (.785)
  • UT Career Record, Hitting Percentage: #1 all-time (.359)
  • UT Season Record, Hitting Percentage: #1 for her 1983 season (.416)
  • UT Season Record, Aces: #1 for her 1982 season (126)
  • UT Season Record, Aces per set: #1 for her 1982 season (1.04)
  • UT Season Record, Kills per set: #13 for her 1983 season (4.15)
  • UT Single Match Record, Aces: #1 vs Northwestern in 1982 (11)
  • UT Single Match Record, Kills: #17 vs Penn State in 1983 (29)
  • UT Season Statistical Leader: kills, kills per set, aces, aces per set, digs, digs per set in 1982; kills per set, hitting percentage in 1983
  • All-SEC Team: 1981 (at UA), 1982, 1983
  • SEC All-Tournament Team: 1981 (at UA), 1982, 1983
  • SEC Tournament MVP: 1982
  • SEC Record, Single Season Aces: #2 for her 1982 season with UT (126) and #5 for her 1980 season with Alabama (117)
  • SEC Season Statistical Leader: hitting percentage in 1983. (SEC stat leader info isn’t available for her first three seasons)
  • AVCA All-American: First Team in 1982

seoulAfter leaving Tennessee, she did some coaching and then was a member of the USA Women’s National Volleyball Team from 1985 to 1988. She and the team won a Bronze medal at the 1987 Pan American Games. She was an alternate on the 1988 team at the Olympics in Seoul, where the USA came in seventh. Since then, Beverly Buffini has been married to her husband, Brian, for over 25 years. They have six children. She’s an author and an educator.


kelseyKelsey was a member of the Tennessee volleyball team from 2010 to 20112. She spent her senior year at Nebraska. Though we didn’t get to see her final season, in the three years she was here she tore up the stat sheet and the record books.

  • 2011 SEC Champions
  • Three year W/L Record: 75-19 (.798)
  • UT Career Record, Attacks per set: #2 all-time (9.75)
  • UT Career Record, Kills per set: #4 all-time (3.60)
  • UT Career Record, Digs per set: #4 all-time (3.40)
  • UT Career Record, Digs: #9 all-time (1,140)
  • UT Season Record, Kills: #4 for her 2011 season (561)
  • UT Season Record, Kills per set: #7 for her 2011 season (4.52), #11 for her 2012 season (4.22)
  • UT Season Record, Attacks: #2 for her 2011 season (1,468), #7 for her 2012 season (1,283)
  • UT Season Record, Attacks per set: #2 for her 2011 season (11.84), #3 for her 2012 season (11.77)
  • UT Season Record, Digs: #14 for her 2011 season (391), #16 for her 2012 season (382), #18 for her 2010 season (367)
  • UT Season Record, Digs per set: #13 for her 2010 season (3.60), #17 for her 2012 season (3.50), #20 for her 2011 season (3.15)
  • UT Single Match Record, Kills: #17 vs Iowa State in 2012 (29)
  • UT Season Statistical Leader: aces, aces per set, digs, digs per set in 2010; kills, kills per set, aces, aces per set in 2011; kills, kills per set, aces, aces per set in 2012
  • SEC Player of the Year: 2011
  • All-SEC Team: 2010 (Freshman Team), 2011, 2012
  • SEC Season Statistical Leader: kills in 2011
  • AVCA All-American: Second Team in 2011, Honorable Mention in 2012, First Team in 2013 (at NU)

rioAfter leaving Tennessee, she continued her career at Nebraska. Besides the First-Team All-American honor listed above she also picked up All-Big Ten Team and Big Ten Player of the Year awards, while leading her team to the Elite Eight. She made the USA Women’s National Volleyball Team in 2014. She’s earned Gold medals at the FIVB World Championship, FIVB World Grand Prix, and the NORCECA Championship. Kelsey was named the Best Receiver at this year’s NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament. The USA has reached the knockout round at the 2016 Olympics in Rio after going 5-0 in pool play.

UPDATE: Kelsey and Team USA went on to win the Bronze Medal, going 7-1 in Olympic competition.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Kelsey Robinson, Olympian

In addition to getting ready for Tennessee’s upcoming season, we will definitely be following former Lady Vol — and now Olympian — Kelsey Robinson as she heads to Rio representing the USA and competing for Gold! Look for more soon, including a look back at her time in Knoxville, her journey on the team, and details about Tennessee’s only other Olympic athlete and what they have in common.

The Opening Ceremony is tonight, and Team USA’s first match is tomorrow. So be sure to tune in and root for her!


Monday, August 1, 2016

I’m still here!

Wow! I kind of disappeared there for awhile, didn’t I!

Apologies for the prolonged absence. I could make excuses about how busy I’ve been with family obligations, other websites, and the like. And while those excuses would be true, I still should have carved out some time every once in awhile for this site.

We’re just 25 days away from the first match of the season — which sounds crazy to me! I’ve got a lot to do to get things back in order and up to date around here. So please be patient with me as I get back to work.

You know what else sounds crazy? This will be the tenth season I’ve covered Tennessee volleyball! If there’s one thing I’ve learned in that time it’s that you never know what’s going to happen each year. And I’m looking forward to see what the team has in store for us in 2016!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The 10th anniversary of Tennessee’s 2005 Final Four

2005ffmgToday, December 15th, marks the tenth anniversary of what has to be one of the biggest moments in Tennessee volleyball history. In 2005, a group of Lady Vols built on what they had started the previous year, overcame adversity early and late in the season, and ended up among the elite of college volleyball with a berth in the NCAA Final Four.

To really appreciate how they got there you need to start the year before. You can read the long version of that story here in an article I wrote about the 2004 squad last year. Here’s the short version:

Head coach Rob Patrick had been steadily building up the program since taking on the job. After being hired the summer before the season started in 1997, his first team went 15-19. But things were all uphill after that. In 2003, the Lady Vols had an impressive 22-9 record — just the second season with single-digit losses in school history and the first since 1982. It was also the team’s third 20 win season in four years. Despite their record, a school high 10 conference wins, a 11-2 out-of-conference record, including victories over the ACC and Big South Conference champions, the Lady Vols weren’t invited to the NCAA Tournament.

With a chip on their shoulders and something to prove, the 2004 set high expectations for themselves — expectations they met and exceeded. The team went 32-3, defeated six ranked teams, earned their first spot in the polls in 19 years, defeated Florida twice in one week in Gainesville, shared the regular season league title with a 15-1 record, won the SEC Tournament, made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen where they barely lost in the fifth set 15-12, and finished the year ranked in the top ten.

“Not having NCAA Tournament experience caught up with us in this match. None of our players had played in a Sweet Sixteen match before tonight. Tennessee hadn’t been to an NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 24 seasons… I’m very proud of the team, not only for this match, but for the whole season.” — Rob Patrick

“We’re definitely excited about next year, we’ve already started talking about it in the locker room. This year gives us experience and motivation for next year.” — Kristen Andre

While expectations were high the previous year, the success of that season ratcheted things up in 2005. If the team’s downfall in 2004 was partly due to lack of tournament experience, they had it now. With nine letter winners, including six of the seven starters returning, along with five freshman and a transfer from Nebraska, anticipation was growing. Every season the press was told “winning the SEC and going deep in the NCAA tournament” was the team’s mission. But with that accomplished the year prior, two other words were added would made their usual goal that much more challenging: Final Four.

“There is a tremendous amount of excitement for the new season. The team and the coaching staff are looking forward to building on the experiences from last year. The successes we had against the top programs, and the confidence that comes with that, will be an invaluable help this year. Our team is going to be very confident and comfortable playing against the top teams… You cannot teach those types of experiences. Nothing’s really going to surprise them on the court”

“The #1 goal is always to win our conference championship… They did not rest on their laurels from last year, believing that winning last year was going to carry us through this coming year, but they really got back to work in the weight room and in practices and have been working hard to make it happen again because they know how special it was the first time. After tasting the Sweet Sixtten, they were really upset that they lost in the regional semis. They could see the Final Four from where they were standing and felt they had an opportunity to get there, and I agree with them, but once you make it to that point, it’s going to be close and you have to try and make it happen. Once you get that far, anything can happen and this year, they want to take it that last step and get into the Final Four.” — Rob Patrick

A big difference between expectations in 2004 and 2005 was that this time those outside the program were taking notice. Four conference coaches picked the Lady Vols to top Florida for the title (from 1998 to this day that’s the third most any team other than Florida has ever received). And nationally Tennessee was ranked #9, matching the school’s highest ever ranking set the season before, and besting their highest preseason ranking of #14 set in 1983.

“We are very honored that coaches around the country have thought enough of our program to vote us into the top ten. The real tribute needs to go to the players who have put in the hard work in the weight room and gym. I’m happy for them that they have been recognized by people across the country. We know that we have not earned anything yet this year, but are looking forward to and are excited to start our season.” — Rob Patrick

What no one could have known at the time was that while Tennessee would once again exceed expectations, the route they would take to get there would look very different from 2004.


The season started off with a sweep of Lipscomb, then moved to Missouri where the Lady Vols swept Utah before facing the homestanding #21 Tigers in an early season test. Something happened in that match that the team hadn’t seen in 21 months — they lost a match 3-0. Coach Patrick marveled “the level that Missouri played both offensively and defensively was one of the highest that Tennessee has played since I’ve been coaching here”.

Now #16, the team headed back to Knoxville for the first time where they easily swept through all three matches of their home tournament without losing a set. Outside hitter Yulia Stoyanova had a big weekend for the orange and white, averaging 5.78 kills per set and hitting .450. The sophomore was named the National Player of the Week for her efforts.

The Lady Vols hit the road again for a tournament at Purdue. The first match went their way with a 3-1 win over Xavier. However, over the next two days they lost to Ohio and the Boilermakers, swept by both unranked teams. Tennessee at 6-3, fell out of the polls.

SEC play began in Arkansas where, due to Hurricane Katrina, they would face both the Razorbacks and LSU. Tennessee notched a 3-0 win vs Arkansas, but once again lost a match in three when playing the Tigers.

A chance for redemption came a few days later when the team headed to Louisville. A win over the sixth ranked Cardinals would be the highest ranked team ever defeated by UT. But while they were able to avoid another sweep, they fell just short of victory falling 15-13 in the fifth set. Senior libero Amy Morris tied the school record with 36 digs in the match.

After a couple of three-match wins vs the SEC’s Mississippi schools, the Lady Vols were set to take on #5 Florida. In 2004, UT had snapped the Gators’ 145 SEC regular season match winning streak, their 121 overall conference match winning streak, and their 109 straight SEC home match winning streak. After doing all that, they beat them on their home court again a week later. In 2005, Florida was aching for some payback. And they got it, in a 3-0 win over the Lady Vols.

What must have been going through the minds of the players and coaches at this point? Unranked, a 9-6 record, halfway through the season and already twice the losses of the entire previous season, five of their six losses by sweep, three of those sweep losses to unranked teams, and not a single win vs a ranked opponent. If anyone was still thinking as far ahead as the Final Four they would probably have been labeled foolishly optimistic. In any case, with twelve regular season matches and the SEC Tournament remaining there was plenty of season left to salvage without dreaming of the postseason.

Tennessee next headed to Georgia where they picked up a sweep over the Bulldogs. Then to Auburn where Julie Knytych broke the school record for career assists, previously held by (now UT assistant coach) Erica Lear, in a 3-1 victory. The Lady Vols had a setback at Alabama, losing 3-1. Now at 11-7 overall and 5-3 in the SEC, the team had played 13 of its first 18 matches on the road, including six of their first eight league matches. To end the season UT would play six of their final eight conference matches at home, where they had only lost a single match since 2004 and were undefeated in 2005.


Kentucky travelled to Knoxville, where they were dealt a 3-0 loss. UT was led by Kristen Andre’s .680 hitting percentage — 17 kills on 25 attacks with no errors. In Columbia the team earned a 3-1 win over the Gamecocks. The next match vs Georgia was played in Tennessee’s current home, Thompson-Boling Arena, as part of the basketball team’s Big Orange Madness. In just the second match played in that facility the team set a still standing school attendance record with 3,311 people. It was the third-largest crowd to see the Lady Vols play, home or away, at the time, and the largest crowd to see any non-basketball Lady Vols sporting event. Tennessee swept the Bulldogs.

Next up was Florida, now up to #4 in the polls. The Gators were on an impressive 203 match winning streak against unranked opponents, and a 78 match SEC road winning streak. UF came into the match on a 14 match winning streak and a 21-1 record on the season. And they had won 13 straight in Knoxville. On top of that, Tennessee had never defeated a top five opponent in the previous 23 attempts all-time. After what had to be considered a disappointing season compared to the preseason hype, the Lady Vols really needed a signature win like this to hopefully get the season back on track. And unlike earlier in the season this time they pulled it off, winning the match 15-12 in the fifth set. The Lady Vols almost won in four. They had five match points but UF fought them off extending the set before ultimately holding off Tennessee 39-37 — still the highest scoring set in school history. A 33 kill performance by Kristen Andre was the tenth best in school history and has only been topped once since then. A Florida player got the first triple double ever earned by a Gator despite the loss. After losing 28 straight vs Florida, UT had now won three of their last four meetings, picked up their first top five opponent victory, and gotten some much needed confidence to finish strong.

“That win was huge. We felt we could play at this level, but we had never put it together this year yet, so to actually do it instead of talking about it is huge for our team. At the beginning of the year, we were not very good at shrugging it off when we were playing badly or lost and now, when Florida had its runs and we weren’t playing as well as earlier, we did a lot better job of turning things around and have done so over last couple weeks.” — Rob Patrick

And finish strong they did. Tennessee swept every remaining conference match of the regular season, vs Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama, and Auburn. Those final two games features some amazing hitting performances — seven different players hit over .450. Against Alabama Kristen Andre hit .800, Sarah Blum and Amy Morris .500, and Mindy Flynn .467. Versus Auburn Heather Harrington hit .733, Kelsey Fautsch .560, Milan Clarke .500, and Andre .444.

After starting the season 9-6, the Lady Vols finished 10-1 giving them a 19-7 overall record and a 13-3 conference mark. The team jumped back into the rankings at #25. They had won eight straight matches, swept the last four, and won 13 sets in a row. After a somewhat disappointing start, the Lady Vols had come together to right the ship and were looking forward to carrying their momentum forward to reach their goals.

The team earned the #2 seed going into the SEC Tournament. With Florida the #1 seed, that meant the two top teams in the league could once again face off in the finals. After 27 years, this would be the last SEC Tournament. Tennessee had made 26 appearances in the conference postseason, more than any other team (but tied with LSU). The Lady Vols could really cap off their late season comeback with a conference title and send off the tournament with a big orange bang.

In the first match, UT swept #7 seed Mississippi State. The win extended the team’s win streak to nine, their sweep streak to five, and gave them their fourth straight 20 win season, making the senior class the first to earn that distinction since the 1981-84 squads. Alabama was next in the bracket. A win over the #6 seed tournament hosts would set up a finals between the two ranked SEC rivals. But first they had to get past the Tide. Alabama won the first set, but UT took the second and third. The fourth set started badly for the Lady Vols but they fought back to take the lead 26-24 late in the set. Both teams tied things up at 29 but Alabama was able to win the net two points and force a fifth set. Tennessee came out strong winning four of the first five points, until the Crimson Tide roared back to take a 6-4 lead — a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Despite keeping it close, the Lady Vols were knocked out of the tournament with a 15-13 loss in the fifth. The defeat also dropped them back out of the poll.


While they were able to dust off their early disappointments and make a run to reclaim their season, the failure to reach one of their top goals of an SEC title had to be a blow. But the team had already shown resiliency in the face of adversity this year and had come out stronger. If they were to reach their next goal they would have to do so again, and in short order. A potential spot in the NCAA Tournament was two weeks away, but before that they had one final test.

Notre Dame was having their best season in over a decade. They had shared the Big East Conference regular season championship and then followed it up with the league tournament title. They were ranked #7 in the nation with a 28-2 record. They had given Florida their only loss of the year before Tennessee gave them their second. The first meeting between the schools would take place over Thanksgiving weekend in South Bend. The Fighting Irish came out firing on all cylinders earning 30-26 wins in both the first and second sets. Whatever coach Patrick said during the match break worked. The teams fought to a 28-28 tie in the third but UT fought off the Irish to keep the match going. The fourth set was another back and fourth affair that went down to the wire. Tennessee had to fight off two match points before picking up a 32-30 win. The Lady Vols were able to control the fifth set throughout, winning 15-9 and finishing the regular season by notching another top ten win. The match marked the first time in nine years the team had ever recovered from an 0-2 start to win. It was the first time they had done so under Patrick, and the first time ever versus a ranked opponent. Senior libero Amy Morris set a new school record for digs with 42, a number that still stands today.

“It was a great win for our team and our program. We played a Notre Dame team that I thought played at a very high level. They are a team that makes very few mistakes and that is something that at the beginning of the year we did not deal with well as we would make too many unforced errors. It goes to show how far our team has come in order to play a top-10 team who plays so consistently, and now being able to stay with them with our consistency. Another way this team has grown is that at the beginning of the year when they were down, either one or two games, we would let the match slip away from us, and the second half of the year we have learned how to continue to play hard.” — Rob Patrick

The season had been a topsy-turvy one for Tennessee, full of ups and downs and highs and lows. After a 9-6 start they now stood at 21-8. After losing to three straight ranked teams they had now defeated the #4 and #7 teams in the country. After suffering a loss almost every week for a month they had now won ten off their last eleven. And after skipping in and out of the polls they ended the regular season at #23.

Tennessee’s late season run earned them, not only a berth in the NCAA Tournament and first/second round hosting, but also the 15th seed.

“We are very excited to be selected to the NCAA Tournament and especially to be hosting the First and Second Rounds and being able to stay at home… It was nice to be seeded and I think the committee looked at our overall strength of schedule as well as our wins against top-10 teams Florida and Notre Dame, as well as our very tough overall schedule.” — Rob Patrick


The Lady Vols started the tournament against Jacksonville State. Making their first ever tourney appearance, the Gamecocks were the OVC tournament champs, had won 10 matches in a row, and had a 19-10 record. Tennessee got a 3-0 win to advance to the second round where they would face Minnesota. The Gophers were 25-7, ranked 17th in the country, had made the Sweet Sixteen in five of the last six years, the Final Four the last two years, and lost in the National Championship game in 2004. Tennessee started on fire and took the first set 30-19. But the experienced Minnesota squad stayed calm and won the next two sets 30-24 and 30-20. The Gophers had an intimidating late lead of 23-17 and then 25-20 in the fourth. With the season on the line the Lady Vols mounted a furious 8-1 run to take the lead and eventually the set 30-27. As they did against Notre Dame, Tennessee dominated the fifth ending Minnesota’s season 15-11. Senior libero Amy Morris set the school record for digs in a season and the Lady Vols ended their home schedule 13-0.

“Our team has a lot of heart, and we always play really hard. I think that’s definitely the reason why we were able to come back. We never gave up. We just kept fighting, and that’s a huge characteristic of our team. That’s always been the mentality since I’ve been here. We kept working hard, kept plugging along. I knew we were going to be able to pull it out.”

“We try and go one match at a time. It’s just another step on our way to the Final Four.” — Julie Knytych

For the second year in a row Tennessee was headed for the Sweet Sixteen. Last year just getting there had been the culmination of an incredible season. This year getting here had been expected — the goal was not here. In the way of their goal was #2 Penn State. The Nittany Lions were 31-2 and had gone an undefeated 20-0 in the Big Ten. They were on a 25 match winning streak. They had won 20 matches or more the last 29 years in a row. As formidable as Penn State was in the regular season, their postseason record was just as impressive. PSU had been in every NCAA Tournament since its inception in 1981. They’d made five Final Fours, played in the National Championship match four times, and won it all in 1999. At home, the Nittany Lions were 30-2 in tournament play.

“We’re very excited to be here. I think a lot of people doubted us at the beginning of the year. I think we played a very tough schedule and I thought that tough schedule enabled us to do the things that we wanted to do to be successful at the end of the year. We’re excited to play Penn State. We know they’re a great team…”

“We’ve played some very good teams on their home court. Notre Dame, Louisville, Florida. You name it, we’ve gone there and played in front of them… This team has seen it all and there isn’t anything that is going to intimidate them. They’ve been in the lion’s den, having people calling them names and crowd yelling at them when they’re serving and they’ve done it for four years and I think they’re really going to block all of that out and play some great volleyball…”

“One thing I look for every time we play, we’re the type of team that just plays hard all the time. Every match we play, it’s just there all the time. That’s something that I expect now from these players. They just go in, they play as hard as they can, they leave their heart out on the court, and that’s all we’ve ever asked them to do. To go out and give 100%.” — Rob Patrick

Penn State struck first winning five of the first six points in the match, but Tennessee caught up and the teams spent the rest of the set trading points before the Lady Vols got the 30-27 win. The Nittany Lions didn’t like that, and used that emotion to jump out to a 20-6 lead in the second set, eventually winning it 30-14. The third set was another see-saw game with no team leading by more than three until late, with UT getting a 30-27 win. The fourth set was the same as the third with no team getting a substantial lead until Penn State went up 26-22. The teams again tied things us at 28. PSU fought off a match point, then the Lady Vols staved off a set point on their way to winning the set and match 33-31.

“This is a team that can go out and just grab a match and take it away, and that is just something that they’ve done many many times before… Until somebody tells them that that match is over, they’ll play all night if that’s what it takes.” — Rob Patrick

“Coming here with all the traditions Penn State has, and it’s a great program, taking them out on their home court is just the best feeling in the world. We are all on top of the world right now. We have nothing to lose; we are just showing everyone that we are a program that needs to be looked at.” — Julie Knytych

“We’ve been working hard to beat a team like Penn State. It would feel good to beat any Sweet 16 team, and now we’re going to the Elite Eight and doing things that we’ve always dreamed of.” — Amy Morris

2005ff5The Lady Vols had now done what no other team before them had done: advanced past the Sweet Sixteen. And while the goal was now in sight, they weren’t there yet. Next up was #8 Missouri — the team that had swept an excited #9 UT squad at the beginning of the season. The tables were turned a bit this time as the Tigers were now ranked in the top ten and the Lady Vols were ranked much lower (now up to #17). Mizzou was 25-4 on the year, with an impressive record over ranked opponents. They’d defeated six ranked teams, including four top ten opponents. Four of their ranked wins were sweeps, including three of the top ten teams. Two of their four losses had been to the #1 team in the country, one of which was a five-set match. After defeating UT earlier in the year and having the season they had had against the competition they had faced since then, you could count on them not being intimated by Tennessee in the rematch. But the Lady Vols weren’t the same team the Tigers had faced in September.

“The team has changed considerably… At the beginning of the year I told the team, ‘We are going to lose some matches that they thought we shouldn’t lose’. We had six returning starters and 10 returning players but I knew that we were going to be a different team, and we were moving people around and people had to get use to their new surroundings and positions. We’re completely different then we were at the beginning of the year. Also the confidence of our players wasn’t as high as it is now, and that really important. When we walked to get on the plane to fly here, they knew in their minds that we could win… And I don’t think we had that mindset when we played Missouri the first time.” — Rob Patrick

The Lady Vols shot out to an early lead, but Missouri scratched its way back to take the lead. The teams went back and fourth before Tennessee just put away the set 30-28. Missouri had the advantage midway through the second set leading 13-8, but some Tennessee runs gave them a 26-25 lead down the stretch, and eventually the set 30-27. The teams traded points in the third until Mizzou pulled away halfway through the set and never looked back, winning 30-17. With the score 2-1, the Lady Vols were one set away from what at one point in the season seemed like an impossible goal. And in the fourth set they played like they knew it — starting the match with a 14-4 lead, never ahead by less than seven, and winning the set 30-17. Kristen Andre had a .576 hitting percentage without a single error on 33 attacks.

Tennessee was headed to the Final Four.

“This team has such strong convictions for what they wanted to happen this year. They tasted it last year, saw the light at the end of the tunnel by making the Sweet Sixteen last year. Being up two games to zero against Ohio State in the Regional Semis allowed them to see the possibilities of making the national semis. I think this year the team had a vision, and they just pushed through to make it work. They put the work in and had the heart in each match to make it work. I think it was their hard work and their vision that got them to here.” — Rob Patrick

“This has been a dream come true for me. In high school, I would always watch the national championships and think how awesome it would be to be there. I don’t think it has settled in yet that we are actually going.” — Chelsea Noble

“It’s an amazing feeling. We’ve worked so hard… Finally all that’s paying off. To be part of the Final Four now, it’s every volleyball players’ dream.” — Sarah Blum

“I wanted to come over and tell you how proud we are of you. When I got the news, I was very emotional myself, because who would have ever thought that in this amount of time that this volleyball program would be going to the national semifinals. You all have made history and will be remembered by this community, university and all of the Lady Vols for what you have stood for and have been able to accomplish. You don’t do that unless you’ve got something really special. You remind me of my 1987 team. They were on a mission. I could feel this. I got to watch you play more this year that I have any other team play, and you can see it and feel it. Take that feeling with you and stay together as one. When you are one as a team, you a very powerful. That (1987 national championship) team was not the most talented one in the country, but when it was all said and done, they were the best team. You have proven that you can be the best team against some of the best and most talented teams out there. Be proud. Represent us. I know you will. I would love to be there on Saturday (for that national championship match) and Joan Cronan promised me that she would take me there if you all take care of business.” – Pat Summitt


While making the Final Four may been a dream come true, it was also going to be a lot of work. They were to face #3 Washington for a chance to play for the National Championship. The Huskies were in the Final Four for the second season in a row. They were an impressive 30-1, and the champions of the Pac-10. UW had played an amazing 14 matches vs ranked opponents, losing only once. A mind-boggling 26 of their 30 wins were sweeps — including every win they had in the tournament so far. And unfortunately for Tennessee, they were the next team to face the Husky steamroller. The Lady Vols put up a valiant effort in the first before falling 30-25. But Washington was just too much, taking the second set 30-19 and the third 30-21. UW would go on to win the national championship over Nebraska — sweeping every team they played in the tournament.

“I felt our team played very hard and never gave up. “I’m very proud of these young ladies for how they represented the University of Tennessee this year, and for their careers and as individuals and how they carried themselves through their careers. They’re hard workers, play with a lot of heart, and I’m sorry that this season is over.” — Rob Patrick

Tennessee won 14 of their last 16 games. They defeated six ranked teams, including four in the top ten. After never defeating a top five opponent, the Lady Vols had beat two in one season. Kristen Andre was named the program’s second First Team All-American. Amy Morris earned Third Team All-American. Julie Knytych and Yuliya Stoyanova picked up All-American honorable mention honors. Rob Patrick was named the Volleyball Magazine Coach of the Year. Tennessee was just the fourth school in the Eastern Time Zone to ever reach the Final Four. The senior class was the winningest in UT history with a 97-32 (.752) record. And when the final poll was released, Tennessee had secured its highest ever ranking as the #6 team in the nation.

“This is a senior class that I will never forget because they came into the University of Tennessee when we did not have a winning tradition, we were not a ranked team yet, and they took on the challenge of building this program into one of the elite programs in the country. And they did it through perseverance and hard work.” — Rob Patrick

After losing in the Sweet Sixteen the year before and in all the lead up to the 2005 season, when the players and coaches dreamed about the possibilities of this season, this probably isn’t exactly how they pictured it happening! 2004 had been such an impressive run with very little going wrong. 2005 had been filled with problems, losses, and moments where it seemed they would never even get a chance to achieve their goals. But the hardships may have been what made this team stronger. And the adversity is what made the end results even sweeter than if it had just been handed to them on a silver platter.

“It was probably about a 60-percent through the season that we started playing better. We had a lot of injuries at the beginning of the year and didn’t have a set line-up yet, so people were playing all different positions. We could not get any kind of continuity playing that way. By the middle of the year, we finally got over our injuries and got a set line-up. People got used to playing to the person next to them, and everybody was able to have established roles. I think that has really led to the type of play that you see from our team.” — Rob Patrick

“I think we hoped this would happen. At some point early in the season after eight losses, we thought maybe it would not happen; but it has which is really cool. I think we just decided as a team that we were going to start winning matches and do well” — Kelsey Fautsch

“We had a rough start to the season and no one really expected anything out of us… I think it has really given us a chance to focus on what we need to do as far as volleyball wise, just play our game, just come out and it has been good enough this far, and hopefully that will be good enough.” — Amy Morris

The 2005 season was a milestone in Tennessee history. Like the 2005 season itself, the ten years since then have seen their share of highs and lows. But there is no question the legacy these players left in place put the team on an upwards trajectory. In the years since UT has: won an SEC Championship, had six 20+ win seasons, had five seasons with 10 or fewer losses, appeared in six NCAA Tournaments, finished in the polls four times, had 11 players earn 15 All-America honors, won seven SEC postseason awards, had their recruiting classes ranked among the top in the nation every year. Proving that Tennessee deserved to be among the top teams in the country, which in turn made potential new Lady Vols take notice, may be the real legacy those players and coaches gifted Tennessee volleyball.

“I think that we have really set a tradition for volleyball as far as being one of the top programs in the country. It is hard to keep doing this every year. We started this push last year, we are doing it this year, and hopefully the years after they can keep doing it. I think it is going to really help recruiting in bringing in good players.” — Amy Morris

“Sometimes, it is a once in a lifetime thing for certain programs, players and coaches. There are a tremendous amount of great coaches and players who have never made it to the national semis. It isn’t because they were not good enough, but there is just some luck involved sometimes. I believe that you create your own luck and thought that we were prepared to take that step if it was presented to us. Hopefully now it will open up some recruiting avenues that we just missed on because we weren’t looked at as an elite program, and I think that is what these young ladies have brought to the University of Tennessee. They have made it an elite volleyball program.” — Rob Patrick


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Site schedule note

Just a heads up that I am leaving for a vacation today and won’t be back until next Friday. Unless something unexpected happens, they’ll be no posts until then. Look for lots of end-of-season updates to start appearing in about a week. Thanks for a great season — I look forward to looking back at it!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tennessee ends season with a win

UT ended the season with a 3-0 victory over Georgia on senior night (25-21, 25-20, 25-21). Much more soon.

UPDATE: Kendra Turner led the team with 13 kills and four blocks; she hit .345. Raina Hembry had nine kills, three blocks and hit .643. Kanisha Jimenez had seven kills and eight digs. Lexi Dempsey had five kills, 36 assists, five digs, and hit .625. Brooke Schumacher dug up 12 balls and served two aces. As a team the Vols hit .293.

Celebrating the 2015 seniors

It never fails to amaze me how fast a player’s time at Tennessee goes by. Once again two Vols are preparing to leave Rocky Top, and move on to whatever life has in store for them next. But before they go, let’s take a look back at their careers in pictures, stats, and quotes.


ld-hsBefore college Lexi Dempsey attended Palm Springs High School and played club at 951 Elite Volleyball. She helped lead her high school team to three league titles. Along the way she earned several regional honors and was twice named her team’s MVP. In her three years on the varsity squad she had 762 assists, 362 digs, 297 kills, and 132 aces.

While Tennessee was her top choice and UT was interested, the team didn’t have a scholarship spot for her. Instead, she spent her freshman season at Portland, where she split time with a junior setter. She finished with 403 assists (3.66 per set), 137 digs, 26 aces, and one double-double.

Portland head coach Joe Houck: “Lexi has a tremendous foundation technically, and is a gifted athlete. Her high level club experience with 951 Elite, and the test of playing every weekend with and against the best teams in the nation will suit her well… Her skill set as a setter and as a defensive player will bolster our roster and raise the level of intensity on a daily basis. She is exceptional as a student as well.”

ld-upAfter her first year of college she was ready for a change. She chose an NAIA school, Vanguard University. But then Tennessee unexpectedly lost two setters, and had an urgent need to fill the opening. Dempsey headed to Knoxville.

Dempsey: “Throughout high school and recruiting, UT was my first choice. I wanted to go somewhere far from home. Looking at everything UT has done athletically, especially with women, it seemed like an amazing place to be.”

UT head coach Rob Patrick: “Lexi is someone we recruited out of high school, so we’ve been able to evaluate her and observe her play. She has the ability to set at a high level, but she can also attack the ball. That’s something I’m excited about utilizing in our practices and maybe even our matches. She has a great personality. She comes in with experience also, at a collegiate Division I level. We’re excited about having someone with that type of experience join our program.”

ld-utShe made an immediate impact. In her very first match in orange and white she had 25 assists (more than she had in any match at Portland). The next match she picked up the first of what would be 16 double-doubles in her sophomore year. And from there things just got better. Here are some of her statistical highlights:

  • 2,940 career assists. That’s the sixth most in school history (with 17 more tonight she’d move up to fifth). It’s the second most in rally-scoring era matches.
  • 8.96 career assists per set. That’s the seventh best in school history and the fourth best in rally-scoring era matches.
  • 1,145 assists this season. That’s the 16th most at UT all-time, and the ninth most in rally-scoring era matches.
  • 10.13 assists this season. That’s the 19th best at UT all-time, and the tenth most in rally-scoring era matches.
  • 752 career digs. That’s the 25th most all-time by a Vol, and the tenth most in rally-scoring era matches.
  • 35 career double-doubles at Tennessee. That’s the fifth most in rally-scoring era matches. She’s in good company on that list: the four people above her and the two people behind her all won All-American honors.
  • She had a career high 53 assists vs LSU this year.

Patrick: “She is someone that has a very different personality than I do and that’s good. She can take information from me that I deliver in a certain manner, but she knows her teammates need it in a different way. She does a fantastic job of that and has a great relationship with her teammates… She’s so comfortable this season. I’ve never seen her set or play so comfortably. She is setting at a level that we haven’t seen happen here in several years. We’re very excited with what she’s doing and I think she feels that confidence from the coaching staff.”

Tennessee hasn’t had the best of luck when it comes to setters. Due to injuries and transfers, only one setter in the rally-scoring era has played that position for four years. That makes her three seasons the second most by a Vol since 2001. And consistency at setter was something UT really needed in 2013. Dempsey came to Knoxville at a low point in the team’s history, and thanks to her skill, personality, and leadership was one of the main player architects of Tennessee’s turnaround. While she never got the recognition she probably deserved from those outside the program, Vol fans won’t forget what she did in her time here — and are grateful she made the choices she made that brought her to Knoxville exactly when we needed her talents most.


mh-hsWhile things are definitely improving, Tennessee isn’t exactly a hotbed of volleyball talent for various reasons. It’s got to be easier to just go to states like California, Texas, and Ohio and cast your net in a wider pool when recruiting, rather than searching far and wide locally. In the past 20 years, the Vols have had only 15 players who came from the state of Tennessee. (For comparison, Texas A&M has 14 players from their home state on the roster this year!) Only five of those instate players made it four seasons. Megan Hatcher is one of the special few local talents.

High school coach Dennis Ray: “I’ve been doing this 25 years and she is the best passer and defender I’ve had. She just anticipates so well. She sees the floor better than anybody I’ve coached — that’s what sets her apart from other defenders.”

Hatcher played for K2 Volleyball Club and attended Webb School here in Knoxville, where she earned multiple regional awards including Sophomore of the Year and All-State honors her senior year. She helped lead her school to second and third place finishes in the state tournament. Her senior year she had 445 digs and 17 aces.

After high school, Hatcher considered schools in Nashville and Atlanta, but there was no doubt where she really wanted to go.

Hatcher: “I think UT was always like my dream school because it’s 10 minutes from my house… It was kind of a no-brainer for me.”

Patrick: “Megan brings a tremendous amount of competitiveness and fight. If you ever watch her play, she’s a person who plays with a lot of passion and has a very good skill set to play a defensive specialist or libero for us. She is someone who is already physically strong and will get stronger in our weight program and we are excited about the athleticism she will bring.”

Hatcher: “Being a Lady Vol was always my dream as a kid. I came to all the games as a little girl. It was always my dream to wear orange and be a part of the Lady Vol family.”

mh-utWith All-American libero Ellen Mullins on the roster, Hatcher didn’t get a lot of court time her first season. But in her sophomore year she played in every match. Her consistency and ability to accurately place the ball made her a go-to server — which allowed her to also display her defensive skills while in the back row. She finally got her chance in the libero jersey during her junior year. An injury sidelined her for part of the season, but when she returned to the court she notched 25 digs in her first match back, and would pick up 20+ digs twice more over the next month. Now in her final year, she’s again a regular fixture on the court, playing in all but eight sets this season so far. As she prepares to end her career, here’s a look back at some of her statistical highlights:

  • Her career high 25 digs vs Mississippi State last season currently stands as the 64th most digs in a match all-time at UT.
  • She has had 21 or more digs in a match three times during her career, a feat matched by only 17 other players in school history.
  • Her 3.09 digs per set in 2014 was the 16th best of the rally-scoring era.
  • She has 571 career digs.
  • She only saw action in six matches her freshman year. But she has played in 85 of the 96 matches since, and in 87% of the team’s sets.

Patrick: “Megan has this natural leadership ability… She is someone that connects with all of the players on our team. She is just a great teammate and someone that all of our players are very comfortable with… because of who she is as a person.”

Hatcher is the only player on the team who was here during the tumultuous 2012 season, and has therefore experienced some major highs and lows — from being ranked #14 in the country and going to the NCAA Tournament her freshman year, to two straight seasons with only a single conference win. It’s feels right that the person who stuck around when things got rough gets to take part in the successes that the rebuilding process she was a big part of has brought about. Her emotional leadership, her vocal presence on the court, her loyalty to her teammates, and her athletic skills are traits that will hopefully inspire a new generation of local girls to believe that one day they could wear the orange and white as well as she did.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

UT swept by Auburn

201532-treiber-1Tennessee fell to Auburn in a a late night televised match 3-0 (25-13, 25-14, 25-21). Erica Treiber led the Vols with seven kills and five blocks. With eight attacks and no errors, she hit an impressive .875 — that’s the third highest by a Vol in the rally scoring with five or more attacks. Kendra Turner had three blocks. Lexi Dempsey had 25 of the team’s 27 assists. Brooke Schumacher dug up 12 balls and Claudia Coco added seven more digs. Tennessee’s 28 kills and .021 hitting percentage were both season lows.

Texas A&M takes conference crown

Congratulations to Texas A&M who won the Southeastern Conference this evening in a five set thriller over Missouri. This is the their first conference title in school history. The Aggies are the fifth different team to win the SEC since 2009. The other recent winners were: Florida (2010, 2012, 2014), LSU (2009), Tennessee (2011), and Missouri (2013).

Patrick gets contract extension

The Knoxville News Sentinel is reporting that UT volleyball head coach Rob Patrick was given a two year contract extension, which would keep him with the team through the 2017 season.

In the ten years prior to Patrick’s arrival: Tennessee was 143-168, had only three winning seasons, and had only won at least 19 matches in a year once. In Patrick’s 19th season with the Vols: he holds a 379-220 record (.633), has had only four losing seasons, and in 14 of the other 15 seasons won at least 19 matches.

Congrats to the coach, and good job UT administration on eventually making the obvious decision! ;)