Tennessee moved on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a defeat of North Carolina in four sets (25-20, 25-19, 24-26, 25-15). More soon.
UPDATE: Breana Runnels led both sides of the net with 20 kills. Lily Felts had 9 and Ava Bell had 6. Bell put down 9 blocks, and was followed by Natalie Hayward with 7, and Danielle Mahaffey, Felts, and Meghan Fingall with 4 each. Paola Laborda had 18 digs while wearing the libero jersey; Felts had 12, Fingall had 11, and Runnels and Hayward had 10 a piece. Hayward assisted on 33 kills.
Hayward and Runnels earned double-doubles in the match.
With 16 blocks, Tennessee has had double digit team blocks in 16 matches this year — including the last 6 matches in a row.
The Lady Vols have made it to the second round in 5 of their last 6 tournaments.
UNC’s Skyy Howard set a UT tournament opponent record with her .706 hitting percentage.
Friday is gameday for the Lady Vols in Columbus OH, where they’re set to take on North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament!
Here are some final notes. Check back tomorrow as I’ll be updating this post with more as needed.
— The Knoxville News Sentinel talked to Coach Rackham Watt about the season, the tournament opponent and UT’s two All-SEC selections.
— If you missed it, be sure to also check out their article from a few weeks ago discussing Rackham Watt’s career.
— Tennessee’s student newspaper is also covering the team’s tournament run.
— Sports Illustrated lists “Six Teams to Watch in 2021 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament“.
— The NCAA website has a few articles of interest:
• “The top storylines to follow in the 2021 DI women’s volleyball tournament“
• “7 unseeded teams in the 2021 DI women’s volleyball tournament to watch out for“
• “We predicted every match at the 2021 NCAA volleyball tournament, through the national championship“
— You can follow along with the tweets from all four teams using this Twitter List.
TENNESSEE NORTH CAROLINA OHIO STATE HOWARD SCHOOL NOTES: WEB // PDF WEB // PDF WEB // PDF WEB // PDF TWITTER: @Vol_VBall @UNCVolleyball @OhioStateWVB @HUBisonVB ROUND ONE, GAME ONE ROUND ONE, GAME TWO WHEN: Friday, December 3rd, 5pm ET Friday, December 3rd, 7pm ET WATCH: LIVE STATS // ESPN+ VIDEO LIVE STATS // ESPN+ VIDEO ROUND TWO WHEN: Saturday, December 4th, 6pm ET WATCH: LIVE STATS // ESPN+ VIDEO
Congratulations to Gianna Pellizzon for being named to the 2021 SEC Community Service Team. This is the second time she has been honored.
“During her four seasons on Rocky Top, Pellizzon has made giving back and spending time in the Knoxville community a top priority. She has helped organize Tennessee’s annual Voloween, which brings children and their families from around Knoxville into UT’s athletic facilities for a night of fun and games and trick-or-treating in a safe environment. In addition to organizing Voloween, Pellizzon has been active with the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission, Eagleton Clinic, VolsHELP, Night to Shine, a variety of SAAC projects as well as helping with UT’s Sports Fest. During the summer of 2021, she and members of Tennessee’s VOLeaders program traveled to Belize to use sport as a way to promote social change. While in Belize, the group worked with the YMCA of Belize, the University of Belmopan, Hearts of Christ Children’s Ministry and the National Football Association. Pellizzon is a three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and was a part of the 2020-21 Volleyball SEC Community Service Team.”
Below are the players appearing in the Ohio State subregional who are ranked in the top 150 nationally in the selected statistical categories. If a school isn’t represented in the top 150, then the team leader in that category is listed.
A C E S P E R S E T 3 Busi Banda 0.66 HOWARD 66 Kayla Diaz 0.40 HOWARD 88 Milexa Cardona 0.38 HOWARD — Hannah Gruensfelder 0.31 OHIO STATE — Mabrey Shaffmaster 0.29 NORTH CAROLINA — Natalie Hayward 0.21 TENNESSEE
A S S I S T S P E R S E T 1 Mac Podraza 11.97 OHIO STATE 23 Natalie Hayward 10.82 TENNESSEE — Meghan Neelon 8.62 NORTH CAROLINA — Milexa Cardona 6.34 HOWARD
A T T A C K S P E R S E T 113 Breana Runnels 10.05 TENNESSEE — Gabby Gonzales 9.69 OHIO STATE — Mabrey Shaffmaster 9.30 NORTH CAROLINA — Bria Woodard 8.83 HOWARD
B L O C K S P E R S E T 6 Danielle Mahaffey 1.40 TENNESSEE 38 Arica Davis 1.26 OHIO STATE 57 Ava Bell 1.20 TENNESSEE — Nina Askew 1.11 HOWARD — Kaya Merkler 0.97 NORTH CAROLINA
D I G S P E R S E T 74 Rylee Rader 4.55 OHIO STATE 143 Essence Bell 4.12 HOWARD 149 Karenna Wurl 4.07 NORTH CAROLINA — Madison Bryant 3.62 TENNESSEE
K I L L S P E R S E T 81 Nia Robinson 3.80 NORTH CAROLINA 101 Breana Runnels 3.69 TENNESSEE 109 Emily Londot 3.64 OHIO STATE 112 Gabby Gonzales 3.62 OHIO STATE 130 Mabrey Shaffmaster 3.53 NORTH CAROLINA — Bria Woodard 2.63 HOWARD
H I T T I N G P E R C E N T A G E 4 Rylee Rader .445 OHIO STATE 36 Danielle Mahaffey .381 TENNESSEE 53 Kaya Merkler .365 NORTH CAROLINA 54 Cimone Woodard .364 HOWARD 103 Amanda Phegley .336 NORTH CAROLINA
P O I N T S P E R S E T 85 Emily Londot 4.29 OHIO STATE 123 Gabby Gonzales 4.08 OHIO STATE 125 Breana Runnels 4.07 TENNESSEE 133 Nia Robinson 4.02 NORTH CAROLINA 138 Mabrey Shaffmaster 3.98 NORTH CAROLINA 140 Morgahn Fingall 3.97 TENNESSEE — Bria Woodard 3.15 HOWARD
TENNESSEE NORTH CAROLINA OHIO STATE HOWARD R E C O R D S Overall 19-9 (.680) 21-8 (.724) 25-5 (.833) 18-12 (.600) Conference 11-7 (.610)
3rd Big Ten
Last 10 Matches 4-6 6-4 9-1 9-1 vs Top 25 1-4 0-3 5-5 0-1 Best Win
#5 Baylor #35 Michigan #10 Purdue #188 Delaware State Distance
to Covelli Center
from Thompson Boling Arena
from Carmichael Arena
— 329 miles
from Burr Gymnasium
R A N K I N G S Seed — — 9 — AVCA 30 — 9 — RPI 29 28 9 204 Pablo 26 35 8 224 RichKern.com 33 — 11 — Massey 26 33 7 242 VolleyTalk 29 — 11 — S T A T S
Hitting % .272
Opp. Hitting % .190
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Tennessee is making their 16th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and their first since 2018. UT has the third most appearances by an SEC school.
The Lady Vols made their debut in the very first NCAA Tournament held in 1981. They made their deepest run in 2005, making it all the way to the Final Four.
The team is 14-15 all-time in the Tournament, 10-5 in first round matches, 3-4 in first round road matches, and 2-2 in first round road matches where they don’t face the host team. They’ve won 4 of their last 5 first round matches.
In 4 of their last 6 postseasons, UT was knocked out in a match that went to five sets.
The Lady Vols head to Ohio for this Tourney match. This will be their first trip to that state for the post-season since 1973, when the team made it all the way to the AIAW national championship tournament after posting a 36-3 record. UT went 2-3 in Wooster, losing in their final pool play match to defending and eventual national champion Long Beach State.
UT has never faced UNC or Howard in the NCAA Tournament. The team has played Ohio State there twice. They lost to the Buckeyes in 2004 in the Sweet Sixteen, and they lost to OSU in 2011 in the second round. Both matches went to five sets with the last being decided by a score of 15-12.
Eve Rackham Watt has a lot of experience with UNC in the Tournament, but usually while wearing Carolina Blue! This will be her 14th total appearance: twice as a head coach (Tennessee 2018, 2021), eight times as an assistant coach (Florida International 2008; North Carolina: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), and four times as a player (North Carolina: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002).
Tennessee played 9 teams this year that made the NCAA Tournament — including 5 seeded teams. In those matches they went 5-6.
After starting the season 16-3, the Lady Vols enter the Tournament having lost 6 of their last 9 matches.
The team has swept 50% of their matches this season. UT was 14-3 in three-set matches, 3-2 in four set matches, and 2-4 in five-set matches.
Tennessee went 7-6 in road matches this year.
Against ranked competition, Tennessee only went 1-4. However, four of those matches were against teams ranked in the top ten. Their win was vs then #9 in the polls and current #5 seed Baylor.
Against the field Tennessee is:
— 9-4 vs North Carolina (last match: 3-2 loss in 2009)
— 1-9 vs Ohio State (last match: 3-1 win in 2018)
— 0-0 vs Howard (would be first meeting)
In the rally-scoring era Tennessee is:
— 17-8 vs Mountain West Conference teams.
— 8-18 vs Big Ten teams.
— 3-0 vs Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference teams.
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North Carolina is making their 19th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and their first since 2016.
The Tarheels made their first NCAA Tournament in 1982. Their deepest run has been to the Elite Eight in 2014.
UNC is 15-18 in Tournament matches, and 11-7 in first round matches.
North Carolina is facing an SEC team in the Tournament for the 5th time, having gone 3-1 in those matches.
Carolina is 21-8 this season. They’re 11-3 in road matches.
The team has swept 41% of their matches in 2021. They’re 12-3 in three set matches, 5-4 in four sets, and 4-1 in five sets.
The Tarheels finished 6th in the ACC with a 10-8 record.
After starting the season 17-4, UNC lost 4 of their last 8 games.
Tennessee and Carolina have two common opponents this season. Both teams defeated North Carolina State, with UT sweeping and UNC winning in four. And both teams lost to Pitt, with UT taking them to five and UNC falling in four.
North Carolina went 0-3 vs ranked teams: a 3-1 loss to #4 Pitt, a 3-0 loss to #14 Georgia Tech, and a 3-1 loss to #2 Louisville.
Against other members of the subregional field, the Tarheels are 1-2 vs Ohio State all-time and have never faced Howard.
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Ohio State is making their 24th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and their second in the last five years, having made the field in 2020.
The Buckeyes made their first NCAA Tournament in 1989. Their deepest run has been to the Final Four, which they’ve done twice (1991 and 1994).
OSU is 36-23 in Tournament matches, and 21-2 in their first matches.
Ohio State has faced an SEC team in the Tournament 7 times, and went 3-4 in those matches.
State is 25-5 this season. They’re 12-1 in home matches.
The team has swept 57% of their matches in 2021. They’re 17-1 in three set matches, 7-3 in four sets, and 1-1 in five sets.
The Buckeyes finished 3rd in the Big Ten with a 15-5 record.
OSU won 9 of their last 10 games, including the final 7 in a row.
Tennessee and Ohio State have two common opponents this season. Both teams defeated Texas Tech in three. And both teams played Purdue, with UT losing in five, and OSU splitting a pair of matches with a 3-2 loss and a 3-1 win.
Ohio State went 5-5 vs ranked teams: defeating #4 Washington, #6 Purdue, #9 Nebraska, #15 Penn State, and #25 Illinois; and losing to #3 Wisconsin, #7 Purdue, #11 Minnesota, #12 Minnesota, and #20 Penn State.
Against other members of the subregional field, the Buckeyes are 2-1 vs North Carolina all-time and have never faced Howard.
Three Ohio State coaches have played against Tennessee during their collegiate careers:
• Head coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg played for the Buckeyes from 1996 to 1999. Her team defeated the Lady Vols 3-0 in a September 1997 match played at Nebraska. Flynn earned a double-double in the match with 36 assists and 11 digs.
• Assistant coach Jill Wilson was a player at LSU during the late 1990s. She went on to become an assistant coach at fellow subregional field-mate North Carolina during the 2000s.
• Assistant coach Nicole Fawcett played against Tennessee in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, in a Sweet Sixteen matchup. The Lady Vols upset the homestanding Penn State team on their way to a Final Four.
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Howard is making their 6th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bison made their first NCAA Tournament in 2015, and have made everyone since except for the abbreviated 2020 COVID Tournament.
HU is 0-5 in Tournament matches.
Howard is 18-12 this season. They’re 9-8 in road matches.
The team has swept 30% of their matches in 2021. They’re 9-5 in three set matches, 9-4 in four sets, and 0-3 in five sets.
The Bison won the MEAC with a 12-2 record, then secured the automatic bid by winning the conference tournament.
After starting the season 3-10, HU won 15 of their last 17 matches.
Howard went 0-1 vs ranked teams: falling to #13 Oregon.
The Bison have never played any other members of the subregional field.
HU assistant coach Sareea Freeman faced off against the Lady Vols twice during her playing career at Florida State, going 1-1.
The Lady Vols have made the 2021 NCAA Tournament! They’ll face North Carolina at #9 seed Ohio State. More details coming soon…
UPDATE: UT is heading to Columbus OH where they’ll face Eve Rackham Watt’s alma mater North Carolina (21-8, @UNCVolleyball) in the first round on Friday, December 3rd. If they win that match they’d face #9 seed Ohio State (25-5, @OhioStateWVB) or Howard (18-12, @HUBisonVB) on Saturday, December 4th.
— The NCAA is listing the time of the match as 5:00pm ET, and the second match as 6:00pm ET.
— Six SEC teams made the tournament: Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi, Mississippi State, and South Carolina.
— Check back every day this week as I’ll be posting match notes each day leading up to the first round game!
— Tennessee Volleyball (@Vol_VBall) November 29, 2021
Congratulations to Breana Runnels and Natalie Hayward on being named to the 2021 All-SEC Team! This is the first SEC award for both, and the fifth All-Conference award for Runnels who earned the Mountain West’s honors all four years she was with Colorado State.
My daughter’s very first volleyball team was part of a third/fourth grade neighborhood club league here in Knoxville. Players were basically randomly assigned to teams at this age. And, wow, did my kid hit the jackpot! The coach of this team would go on to win seven state high school championships. The parent of two of the kids went on to be an assistant coach at UT where he’d win an SEC Championship. One player is currently on the roster at Pepperdine. Another was an All-American at Nebraska. And yet another went on to become an All-SEC player at Tennessee — Lily Felts. (So technically I’ve been following Felts’ career longer than any other player in my 15 years reporting on Tennessee!)
Felts hit the ground running back in 2018, hitting 11 kills, getting 9 digs, and 3 blocks vs a ranked opponent in her very first match. She was the second most used attacker on the team that year, and helped lead the Lady Vols to their first NCAA Tournament in six years. After trailing 2-0 in the first round of the tourney, she went on to lead the team in kills while UT mounted a furious comeback. Her kills, attacks, and point totals in that match are still career highs. At the annual athletics department awards, she was named the Female Rookie of the Year for all Tennessee sports. In her sophomore year, she led the team in aces, becoming just the third Lady Vol in a decade to reach 24 or more in a season. As a junior she led the team in kills, attacks, aces, and points. As a six-rotation player, she’d always been potent on defense. But she really went to the next level all-around, picking up double digit kills in 14 out of 20 matches, and 10 matches with double-digit digs. She earned All-SEC accolades for her efforts. Her senior season has seen more of the same, with 14 double-digit kills matches, and 17 double-digit digs matches. She’s hit .250+ 14 times in 2021.
In her career, she’s notched the 8th most double-doubles of any Lady Vol in the rally-scoring era — and the 4th most of any non-setter. Felts is only 16 kills away from becoming the 22nd Tennessee player to ever reach 1,000, and 86 attacks away from becoming the 16th UT player with 3,000 attempts. She’ll also finish as one of the top 20 in digs in program history. And she’s 3 aces away from reaching the school rally-scoring era top ten list.
As a local fan, it’s always special when a local player stays home to play for her local team. It’s even better when that player becomes a major part of the team’s success. But there is nothing like getting to watch a player you watched play with your own kid in elementary school mature into a hometown star. Lily Felts is a wonderful example for young girls sitting in the stands here in Knoxville, and hopefully many of them will want to grow up to wear the orange and white as amazingly as she has.
- UT Head Coach Rob Patrick: “Lily is one of the elite six rotation players in the country. Her fierce competitive nature will add to the already positive energy of our current team. We are excited about adding a player who finished No. 2 in career high school kills in the state of Tennessee to our offensive arsenal. Lily will have a huge impact on our program due to her abilities to control the ball off her platform at an elite level, along with the ability to place the ball on any spot on the court.”
- Lily Felts on why she chose Tennessee: “Playing for my hometown school and at my parents’ alma mater is a gift. I always wanted to go to UT growing up, and when I started playing volleyball, I knew I wanted to be an athlete here. There’s nothing better than getting to step on the court that I watched my idols play on and getting to walk the campus that I explored before football games as a child. This school is rich in tradition, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Danielle Mahaffey is the epitome of a hard worker — and every season she has been here, she has become a better and better blocker because of it. Her freshman blocks per set was a solid for a rookie 0.57, that grew to 0.67 her sophomore year, then to 0.94 last season. As a senior, that phenomenal growth has soared to 1.40 blocks per set, which stands as the 5th best ever in a season at Tennessee — and the top average of the past 15 years.
In a match this past spring, Mahaffey put down an incredible 7 solo blocks in a single match, smashing the previous UT rally-scoring era record of 4. With 46 total, she has the fourth most solo blocks at UT since 2001. In September, she had 12 total blocks in a match, which was the 7th most at UT since 2001, and the most since 2012. She’s a single block away from joining the school season blocks top 20 list. And rates as having the 17th most career blocks all-time.
But she doesn’t just block, she’s also a phenomenal hitter for the Lady Vols. In 51 matches of the 103 she has played in, she hit .250 or better! In 9 matches this calendar year she has hit over .500, capped by an .800 hitting performance with no errors. This season, Mahaffey is hitting .381, good for the 4th best season of all-time at Tennessee. Her career .270 ranks 18th all-time.
Replacing a player like Danielle Mahaffey is going to be tough. But replacing a player with skills and her work ethic, even tougher still.
- UT Head Coach Rob Patrick: “Danielle will bring elite-level blocking skills to the program. She is another addition to this class who has the ability to be a high-level six-rotation player. Another physical and athletic young lady who can hit on either pin while also being an offensive force from the back row. Danielle’s quiet demeanor belies her highly competitive nature.”
- Danielle Mahaffey on why she chose Tennessee: “It’s amazing to know that [my aunt] was here before me, making history.”
With a name like hers, it’s serendipitous that Rocky Perinar came to play for Tennessee. In her freshman season vs a ranked San Diego team played in California, Perinar led the team to victory with a match leading 15 kills, while hitting .387. In matches against two other ranked teams that year, she had double digit kills in each and hit .333 and .346. Perinar got to share the court with her sister in a match vs Alabama in 2018. Her 14 kills in the win still stand as her 2nd best career high. She capped her first season off with 5 kills, 4 blocks, and a .333 hitting percentage in the second round of the NCAA Tournament vs a seeded Washington State team. After that year, while not usually starting, she’s proven that she has a steady hand and a solid volleyball IQ when coaches need a relief player for a teammate having trouble, or as someone to mix things up when the opponent has their number. On the court in just over 50 matches in her career, Perinar has hit over .250 in a third of them. On her senior night last week, she set a career high for aces, digs, and hitting percentage.
I would love to have seen Rocky Perinar play in many more matches than she got a chance to. Despite that, coaches and fans know that when she was on the court, she was always as solid as a ro— …I mean that, coaches and fans always knew that they could always count on good ole Rocky— …wait wait! Surely I can do this without resorting to a bad pun!
- UT Head Coach Rob Patrick: “Rocky is another member of this class who will bring a physicality that will allow her to compete at a high level at the net early in her career. She has the ability to play all six rotations and attack successfully on both pins and through the back row. She presents a physical net presence also with her blocking. We are excited about Rocky’s potential as a back row player.”
- Rocky Perinar on why she chose Tennessee: “The people and community that surround and support you make Tennessee a special place to be.”
Maybe I’m just weird, but I love defensive volleyball. Anyone can go up and muscle a ball over the net really hard. (OK, not just anyone, but let me finish my point!) But digging up an attack? That requires some skill. So when a really strong defensive player like Giana Pellizzon is on the court, I’m watching the back row just as intently as the front. And while the libero may get the most attention, I get happy when the libero has a defensive specialist back there with them at the same time. Pellizzon has been that go to DS the past few years and the combination of her and one of the Madison’s (Coulter and Bryant) back there since 2018 has been a joy for this defensive fan to watch.
As much fun as I’ve had watching UT defense in recent years, I’ve unfortunately had to deal with a volleyball pet peeve of mine as well: missed serves. I get it, they’re fine when you’re serving strong and scoring a lot of aces. But — tough love time here — that has not been the case with Tennessee at the service line in recent times! So another under-appreciated player I like to see on the court is the serving specialist. These are the players that come in and just put up a solid run of serves allowing your offense to do their thing. Nothing fancy, nothing conventionally impressive. Just in-serve after in-serve with rare misses. It warms my heart!
Pellizzon has been both — a relentlessly reliable server and an impressively dependable back-row player. Unfortunately these are not the players that stand out when you look over a stats sheet. But, man, you know it when they aren’t on the court. We fans appreciate the important contribution players like Giana Pellizzon have made to the team, especially during UT’s incredible tournament run this year.
- UT Head Coach Eve Rackham Watt: “Giana has been trained at a very high level through her high school and club programs. Defensively she has great quickness and anticipation. I am excited she has chosen to join our Tennessee Volleyball family and look forward to what she will bring not only next season but in her career as a Lady Vol.”
- Giana Pellizzon on why she chose Tennessee: “Being a Lady Vol and being surrounded by trail blazers is why Tennessee is so special to me. There are so many resources and opportunities presented for student-athletes here, and we really are able to take advantage of our platform that we have through sport and use that to do good in the world. We’re all one big family, and I will do anything for my team. I love the fanbase, because this is by far the most passionate fanbase across the country. They create a fun atmosphere across all sports.”
It’s that time again… and I know I always say it feels like it came too fast! But the regular season is unbelievably already over! And before we get to the post-season, let’s take a quick look back at the players leaving Rocky Top this year, in stats, photos, recollections from coaches when they were recruited, and with the athletes themselves explaining why they chose UT.
Lady Vols first saw Breana Runnels in 2018 when the team faced Colorado State in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee fell behind in that match 2-0 before staging a comeback over the next three sets. Runnels led both teams in the match in kills (with 21), attacks, and points. In her collegiate career with the Rams, Runnels had 1,404 kills, hit .239, served up 86 aces, dug up 601 balls, put down 193 blocks, and averaged an impressive 4.24 points per set. She had 15 double-doubles at CSU. Runnels was named to multiple Mountain West Preseason, Mountain West All-Conference, and Mountain West Academic All-Conference honors, and was an AVCA All-Region pick in 2019.
Runnels has kept up her pace here in Knoxville. She leads the team in kills and kills per set, attacks and attacks per set, and points and points per set. In just a single season at UT she has already added 11 more double-doubles to her 15 collected at Colorado State.
Breana Runnels almost knocked the Lady Vols out of their last NCAA Tournament appearance. But she’s a big reason why they’ll make their next one!
- CSU Head Coach Tom Hilbert: “Breana has a fantastic arm swing and she does jump well. She’s not a big tall outside hitter, in fact we are getting a little bit smaller with this class. She gets up in the air high enough… She has a very impressive arm and hits extremely hard. She also has a really nice, calm demeanor as she plays. She’s kind of a sleeper in this class and I think she is going to be a contributor pretty early in her career.”
- UT Head Coach Eve Rackham Watt: “We are thrilled to be adding Breana Runnels to our program. Our first introduction to Bre was in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. In her redshirt sophomore year, she had 21 kills and six blocks against us in a fantastic five-set match. She went on to have an unbelievable career at Colorado State. I am glad she will be able to pursue her Master’s degree at Tennessee and join our Lady Vol family.”
- Breana Runnels: “In high school I was really drawn to the volleyball program itself. With the opportunity that was presented to me and the timing, it all fell into place. Everyone had the same energy and passion about the University of Tennessee and being able to be a part of a community that has modeled the support of women’s sports is exciting.”
Nicole Shanahan joined the Lady Vols as a graduate transfer from Wisconsin. She was part of a Badger team that over four seasons made it to the National Championship match, the Final Four, the Elite Eight, and Sweet Sixteen. While she didn’t get a ton of playing time, she made the most of the time she was on the court. She played in 16 matches, and averaged over one kill and one block per match. In her first ever start Shanahan had 6 blocks. In a match vs a ranked Baylor squad, she had 5 blocks.
She continued that effectiveness in Knoxville. While seeing action in 17 matches, she scored points in all but 3. Against a top ten Baylor team this year she bested her total last time out against them putting down 6 blocks. Shanahan averaged 1.17 kills per set, 0.8 blocks per set, and a career best 1.66 points per set this year.
- UW Head Coach Kelly Sheffield: “Nicole will give us much more depth in the middle which I’m excited about. I’ve watched Nicole quite a bit throughout the club season and I really like how hard she works. She works hard to get out and close on the block, and works to get up and available in transition.”
- UT Head Coach Eve Rackham Watt: “We are so excited to welcome Nicole Shanahan to our program. Nicole is a player who comes to us with a lot of high level experience and tremendous work ethic… She also traveled with the Big-10 All-Star Team. I am looking forward to her adding that experience to our team and providing depth in the middle blocker position.”
- Nicole Shanahan: “Tennessee is special to me because I admire the mission behind being a Tennessee Volunteer. I love how the student-athletes give their all for the state of Tennessee every day and demonstrate excellence in all aspects of their life.”
Ava Bell followed Eve Rackham to Knoxville from North Carolina a year after the head coach had taken the reins, and she made an immediate impact. In her third match she hit .875 with 7 kills on eight attacks. Over the next ten matches, she hit over .300 half the time. Her .415 season hitting percentage is second in program history, and just 1/100th of a point from tying the record set in 1983. In the COVID shortened season, she hit over .300 in 12 of 20 matches. She notched 4 solo blocks in two different matches. In her senior season, Bell is once again hitting over .400, something only she and Tennessee Hall of Famer Beverly Robinson have ever done. In 11 matches this year she has hit over .500! For her career, she should finish at the top of UT’s hitting percentage record book. She’s also just become the 15th Lady Vol in the rally-scoring era to block 100 balls in a season — one of the reasons Tennessee currently ranks 3rd in the nation in blocking. Bell herself rates as the 59th top blocker in the NCAA stats.
Bell, originally recruited by Rackham, thankfully made the decision to also make the move to Tennessee. She has been an integral part of making the team the success that it is today.
- UNC Head Coach Joe Sagula: “Ava is a competitor. She is one of the hardest workers in this class and will be able to make an impact early in her career. She has the capability of playing multiple positions, which has become a bit of a staple on our roster. She is explosive with a great arm and has court awareness, which can allow her to compete from the first day she arrives on campus.”
- UT Head Coach Eve Rackham Watt: “We are looking forward to Ava joining us this spring and continuing her career at Tennessee. I feel very fortunate she chose us, and believe she will make a great impact in our program. She is joining a great freshman class, along with a team that has set high expectations for themselves. Ava is a hard working player with a great competitive drive. We are excited about her versatility and what she can bring to our offense. I am looking forward to developing her game further and see her contributing to our success in the SEC and nationally.”
- Ava Bell: “The standard of excellence at Tennessee is what inspires me. I love being around like-minded people who care about working hard to achieve big goals.”
Natalie Hayward may have only been here for two seasons, but on Rocky Top, that is not anything new for a setter! Believe it or not, in the 15 years I’ve been doing this website, Tennessee has had only one four-year player in that position! Thankfully, Hayward came to us from Depaul ready to lead. In her first season here, shortened by COVID, she was just outside the school’s all-time top 20 list for assists per set. Not only that, she hit at .321 clip (27th best at UT all-time), tied for the most service aces on the team, and put her defensive skills to use to pick up 8 double doubles over 20 matches. She hasn’t slowed down this year. He’s currently ranked 23rd in assists in the nation. She just jumped into the UT single season top 20 for total assists, will also make the top 20 for assists per set, and has 12 double-doubles this year. Maybe most impressively, she’s done all that while hitting an incredible .397! If you’ll remember, above I noted only two UT players have ever hit over .400 in a year. Hayward is having one of the top 5 hitting seasons in Tennessee history. UT career-wise, she is on the cusp on reaching the top 10 in assists and assists per set. And in all likelihood, she’ll finish with the 2nd best career hitting percentage of all-time.
Leadership and consistency are so important for the player in charge of running the offense, and they’re something Tennessee hasn’t always had over the years. Thankfully, Hayward has been able to cram so much of both into her two seasons in Knoxville.
- DePaul Head Coach Nadia Edwards: “Natalie was a dual sport athlete who chose volleyball over softball. She is extremely strong as a setter and can set a ball from one end of the court to the other with ease. She has the ability to run a 5-1 faster tempo-offense, is a sound blocker and when needed has proven to be an offensive weapon and top point scorer for her team; showing her versatility and athleticism. We look forward to Natalie coming in and helping to enhance our offensive production this upcoming season.”
- UT Head Coach Eve Rackham Watt: “We are thrilled to welcome Natalie Hayward to the Lady Vol Volleyball program. Natalie has the potential to be a top-notch setter in the SEC, and we feel fortunate that she will be joining us this spring. She will help us in running a stable and consistent offense while providing fantastic intangibles on and off the court.”
- Natalie Hayward: “Tennessee is special to me because it has given me the opportunity to grow, learn, become a better person and has given me the opportunity to be a part of a special group of female athletes rooted in Lady Vol tradition.”
Last place Missouri apparently caught Tennessee looking ahead to turkey and an NCAA bid, defeating the Lady Vols in five sets (19-25, 19-25, 25-21, 30-28, 15-11).
Breana Runnels led both teams with a UT career high 26 kills. Morgahn Fingall had 14, Lily Felts 11, and Danielle Mahaffey 10. Ava Bell and Mahaffey put up 6 blocks each. Runnels had 5, while Natalie Hayward and Fingall had 4 each. Hayward put up 57 assists. Madison Bryant dug up 20 balls, Felts 17 (for her 7th double double of the year), and Runnels 14 (for her 10th at UT).
Runnels’ 26 kills is the 46th most by a Lady Vol since 2001.
Prior to this match, the Tigers had not won a single match at home this season.
Tennessee went up 2-0, and had 3 match points. This was just the 27th time in school history that UT has lost after winning the first two sets.
The team hit .286 in the match. That’s their fifth highest hitting percentage in a losing match in the rally-scoring era.
UT is now 25-19 in final regular season matches since 1978, and 7-4 all-time in matches played the day before Thanksgiving.
The Lady Vols hit the road one last time in the regular season for a Thanksgiving-eve match vs the Missouri Tigers.
UT is 7-10 all-time vs Missouri. The teams are 5-5 in their last ten meetings. Tennessee has only won a single match in Columbia (2018).
The Lady Vols have locked up a final 4th place finish in the SEC. While the order is still to be determined, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Florida will finish above UT, with all three in the running for the championship going into the final week.
With a win on Wednesday, Tennessee would secure their 24th recorded 20-win season in school history. It would be the 14th fastest they’ve reached that milestone.
With a win on Wednesday, Tennessee would guarantee their 12th recorded single-digit loss season (not including the COVID shortened year).
UT is 25-18 in final regular season matches since 1978.
The Lady Vols are 7-3 all-time in matches played the day before Thanksgiving. They’ve won the last three in a row.
UT ON THANKSGIVING EVE 1981 W 3-0 2009 W 3-2 2010 W 3-0 2011 W 3-1 2012 L 2-3 2014 L 1-3 2015 L 0-3 2016 W 3-1 2018 W 3-0 2019 W 3-1 2021 ?
Tennessee has swept over half of their opponents this season — 14 out of 27 matches played. That’s the 4th most sweeps in a a season in the last 30 years.
The team will be competing in their 7th televised match of the season, and are 3-3 so far. UT has played exactly 100 matches on TV in the rally-scoring era, and has a .410 winning percentage.
Two of the coaches on the Missouri bench have previously faced Tennessee on the court. Assistant coach Molly Taylor played in three matches vs UT in 2012 and 2013, going 2-1. She averaged 10.54 assists per set. Volunteer assistant coach Alyssa Munlyn played against the Lady Vols in six matches from 2015-2018, and went 3-3. She hit .481 over all those games.
NATIONAL & CONFERENCE STATISTICAL RANKS
Columbia MO Missouri 4-24, 1-14 Wednesday, November 24th, 8:00pm ET Live Stats | SEC Network
Congratulations to Ava Bell and Natalie Hayward on being named to the CoSIDA 2021 Academic All-District Women’s Volleyball Team! They will next be considered for Academic All-America status, to be announced in December.
The Lady Vols got the sweep (25-16, 25-12, 25-21) in their last home match of the season. More stats soon.
UPDATE: Breana Runnels and Danielle Mahaffey led the match in kills with 9 each. Rocky Perinar, Natalie Hayward, and Morgahn Fingall had 4 each, Nicole Shanahan and Lily Felts had 3 each, and Ava Bell had 2. Perinar hit a career best .667, which Hayward matched. Mahaffey averaged .571. Bell was the match blocks leader with 7, followed by Mahaffey and Felts with 6, and Fingall with 5. After only having a single ace her first 54 matches over four seasons, Perinar served up 2 on Senior Night. Hayward put up 29 assists. Runnels led the team in digs with 14, followed by Madison Bryant with 13.
The Lady Vols have had 13 or more team blocks for the past four matches in a row.
UT held Alabama to a .047 hitting percentage. That’s the 7th time this year they’ve kept an opponent under .100.
UA’s kills leader had 7 in the match. There have only been 10 matches in the rally-scoring era where an opponent’s kills leader had fewer than that.
The Tide scored 49 actual points during the match. UT has only held an SEC opponent to less than that 12 times since 2001.
This match was Tennessee’s first Senior Night sweep since 2015.
The Lady Vols won both the very first home match I attended after starting this site and now my last home match 3-0 (Appalachian State, 8/31/2007, 30-17, 30-18, 30-14).
UT picked up a 3-0 (25-18, 25-18, 25-13) win over the Crimson Tide this evening. More details coming soon.
UPDATE: Breana Runnels led the match in kills with 17. Morgahn Fingall had 11, Lily Felts had 9, and Danielle Mahaffey had 8. All three players were also extremely effective hitters: Mahaffey hit .800, Felts hit .529, Runnels hit .485, and Fingall hit .435. Ava Bell put up 7 blocks, while Natalie Hayward and Mahaffey added in five more each, and Runnels 4 more. Hayward had 41 of the team’s 47 assists. Felts, Madison Bryant, and Runnels all had double digit digs with 13, 12, and 11 respectively. Runnels now has 10 UT career double-doubles.
Tennessee had their second best hitting match in the rally-scoring era with a .469 — making only 4 attack errors the whole night.
Since 2001, no other match before this one has had 4 players with double digit attacks all hit over .425.
Mahaffey’s .800 average ties for the third best by a Lady Vol (with at least 10 attacks) in the rally-scoring era.
The margin between UT’s hitting percentage and Alabama’s (.469 vs .130 for a .339 difference) was the 16th widest between Tennessee and an opponent since 2001. It’s the second time this season the Lady Vols have had over a .300 point advantage over the other team (.379 margin over ETSU).
While Tennessee ranks 5th in the nation in blocking, they also are having a big year at not getting blocked. For the third time this season, UT held an opponent to 1 or fewer blocks. That’s a record three of the top ten school rally-scoring era low opposing block totals notched this season. In addition, Tennessee has held five opponents to 2 or fewer blocks and seven opponents to less than 3 blocks.