With the release of Tennessee’s 2021 volleyball schedule, we can officially begin the countdown to the upcoming season! We’re just over 100 days away from first serve, when the Lady Vols will take on Texas Tech for the first time since 1991.
27 – Texas Tech
28 – ETSU
28 – North Carolina State
3 – Baylor
10 – at Morehead State
12 – Morehead State
17 – at Purdue
17 – vs Purdue Fort Wayne (at Purdue)
17 – vs Jacksonville State (at Purdue)
25 & 26 – Arkansas
29 – Auburn
2 & 3 – Texas A&M
8 & 9 – at South Carolina
15 – at Georgia
23 & 24 – at LSU
27 – Kentucky
3 – at Florida
7 – Mississippi
13 & 14 – at Mississippi State
18 & 19 – Alabama
24 – Missouri
Now that the new season in in the horizon, look for updates to start coming more often.
The 2021 season will be my 15th year covering Tennessee volleyball. To put that in perspective, I’ve been around longer than every Lady Vol head coach but one! Put another way, seniors on the first team I covered are now just a couple of years away from 40!
In all those years I’ve only missed one home match. (Got stuck in traffic — if the game had gone one extra set I would have made it!) That’s 193 of the last 194 matches here in Knoxville where I’ve been in the stands. And according to my count, I’ve also travelled to at least 54 away games in that time. I think I can safely say no one other than long-time coach Rob Patrick has seen the Lady Vols play more matches than the 247 I’ve seen in person since 2007!
I bring that up not to brag, but to articulate how much I love the sport and this team. I’ve seen the ups of 6 NCAA Tournament bids and an SEC Championship to the downs of an unexpected talent-drain and back-to-back single win conference seasons. Through it all and everything in between, I’ve kept this site going. As I hope you can see, it would take a lot for me to decide to stop supporting Tennessee volleyball, both in person in the stands and here online, because I absolutely love doing it!
That said, 2021 will be my last season.
Sixteen years ago I moved back to Knoxville with my wife and kids after years away so that we could be close to family as my oldest child was beginning kindergarten. She’ll be getting her college degree next year, and my youngest will be graduating high school. It’s been wonderful having their grandparents, aunt, and uncle around for their formative years. But about four years ago, my wife and I started thinking about what we might want to do with ourselves once the kids were no longer kids. And we came up with an idea that got us very excited for the next chapter in our lives. We decided we wanted to move to Florida and live the vacation life year round: sun, theme parks, palm trees, beaches, and more all the time! We set a date of June 15, 2022 as our goal and we’ve been counting down to it every day for almost 1,000 days now. (There are currently just 414 days left to go!)
As I said above, it would take a lot to drag me away from Tennessee volleyball, but this dream of a future with my wife in Florida is one of those few things.
When I started this site back in 2007, I said in the very first post that I wasn’t sure how viable a fan site about a woman’s college volleyball team would be but that I’d “give this idea a shot this season and see how it goes”. I would have been stunned to know that 15 years later this page would still be going strong. Back then hardly anyone was doing anything like this — Hawaii and Nebraska maybe. Today there are even fewer. (RichKern.com has a list of sites like this he’s compiled over the years. This is the only one still standing.)
I’m still here because of all the support fans, families, players, and coaches have shown me over the years. Without you guys, I probably would have thrown in the towel years ago! Being a small part of Tennessee volleyball, even just unofficially from the outside, has been an absolute privilege. I will cherish all the memories I’ve made, new friends I’ve met, and experiences I’ve had while doing this site for the rest of my life.
Thank you so much for allowing me to do this… or at least putting up with it! I am very much looking forward to having this final upcoming season with you all doing what I love here on TennesseeVolleyball.net.
Congratulations to Kentucky on punching their ticket to the National Semifinals. They are now the fourth SEC team to make the Final Four, after LSU, Florida, and Tennessee.
This year was a year like no other. After living through it, I’m in no mood to recap the off-the-court events of 2020! But the volleyball season(s!) were a wonderful bright spot in a year that sorely needed it. So to start this recap, huge thanks to the players, coaches, and staff that made it happen!
The first thing I think that is worth noting is how well Tennessee volleyball handled the medical protocols put in place. The Lady Vols had four matches cancelled, two due to weather at Mississippi and two to COVID issues at Texas A&M. But no matches were cancelled due to COVID at Tennessee. Huge kudos again to the players, coaches, and staff that followed the systems put in place to help prevent infection.
The Lady Vols were picked to finish 7th in the conference at the beginning of the season. They bettered that pick with a 5th place finish. Though if missed matches had been played they could have easily finished 4th, with an outside shot at 3rd possible.
UT had a .600 win percentage, the 3rd best in the last 8 years.
For a team that wasn’t ranked, Tennessee held their own against ranked opponents. They won 3 of their 8 matches vs the top 25, their 2nd best win percentage since 2013. (While not ranked themselves, UT was receiving votes in 8 weeks of the season.)
A Lady Vol led the conference in digs almost every single week of the season. For most of the year that person was Madison Coulter who, despite only playing in the fall portion of the season, led the conference in digs almost every week until early-March. Since the SEC requires players on the list to have played in at least half their team’s matches, at the point she was no longer eligible. So the top player on the list after Coulter had to be removed was Madison Bryant, who held the top spot for the remainder of the regular season.
Other Tennessee players that ended the regular season in the conference’s top ten statistical categories include: Ava Bell (#4 in blocks, #9 in hitting), Morgahn Fingall (#9 in points, #10 in kills), and Natalie Hayward (#5 in assists).
Danielle Mahaffey’s 10 blocks vs Mississippi State tied for the 2nd most blocks in any league match and the most this year by a player in a four-set match. (And I’d be surprised if her 7 solo blocks in that match weren’t a conference high as well!)
Ava Bell’s .353 hitting percentage ranks 11th all-time on UT’s season chart.
Madison Bryant’s 3.85 digs per set ranks as the tenth best season ever at UT.
Lily Felts and Natalie Hayward ranked 7th in the SEC in double-doubles with 8 each.
As a team, the Lady Vols finished the year in the top four in the SEC in 8 of 12 statistical categories.
FINAL REGULAR SEASON
UT CONFERENCE STATISTICAL RANKS
aces assists blocks digs kills hitting TEAM OFFENSE 12 6 3 2 3 4 TEAM DEFENSE 3 3 4 10 6 4
Four different Lady Vols earned positional SEC Player of the Week honors this year: Lily Felts (offensive), Natalie Hayward (setter), Madison Bryant (defensive), and Morgahn Fingall (offensive). Felts and Hayward were also named the overall Players of the Week. This was the eighth time in school history four different players won one of the weekly awards, and just the second time the team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament when doing so.
I could probably dive deeper for more stats that show how well the team did this year. But nothing proves that point better than the fact that the women on the court were just out there doing what they do in (yes, I’m going to say it!) unprecedented circumstances. Even if they hadn’t done well, they’d be remembered for their perseverance and fortitude in playing during a season like this one. Doing so while also playing the way they did just makes us all the more proud of them.
One more time: thanks so much to the players, coaches, and staff that gave us the gift of a volleyball season when so many other things we took for granted were taken away this past year.
That’s enough looking back — we’ve got an extremely truncated off-season so it’s time to start preparing for the 2021 season which, if it starts at its usual time, is only about 130 days away!
And be sure to check back here soon. Sometime before the end of this month I have a big announcement about this site to make.
Two more awards for Lady Vols in the past week!
First off congratulations to Ava Bell on being named an Honorable Mention All-Southeast Region player! According to the official site, this s the “third consecutive year the Lady Vols have had at least one player earn all-region status” which is “the longest such streak for UT since a five-year run from 2008-12”.
Also cheers to Giana Pellizzon who was selected to be a member of the 2020-21 SEC Volleyball Community Service Team. According to the league, the “Service Team looks to highlight an athlete from each school who gives back to their community in superior service efforts”.
Congratulations to Lady Vol Lily Felts on being named to the All-SEC Team this season. Coach Rackham said, “We are proud of Lily and the ALL-SEC honor she received. Lily has done so much for our team this season, and it has been a joy to watch her develop year after year. Our team accomplished a lot over the past 8 months, and Lily was certainly a huge part of that.”
In other news, Tennessee just missed out on making the NCAA Tournament. The field was decreased from the usual 64 to 48 teams. And the committee announced Tennessee was one of the first four teams that missed the cut.
Nevertheless, with Fingall’s and Felt’s news today we get to officially end the year on a high note! Check back later this week for a recap of the season.
Tennessee’s Morgahn Fingall, a sophomore right side from Fairfax, Va., averaged 5.06 points, 4.67 kills and 2.22 digs per set in the series win over LSU. Fingall posted a career-high 23 kills in the opening match against the Tigers, and followed that with a double-double of 19 kills and 13 digs in the second match.
Fingall is the fourth different Tennessee player to earn weekly recognition this year.
MOST INDIVIDUAL LADY VOLS TO WIN
AN SEC WEEKLY AWARD IN A SEASON
12-8 2018 4
So what’s next for the Lady Vols?
The team “postponed” four matches this season due to COVID. The consensus on VolleyTalk seems to be that only matches that might matter for NCAA Tournament consideration would be made up. Since the two teams Tennessee missed out on playing don’t have winning records, I doubt there will be much incentive for the SEC to let them be rescheduled, even though a few more wins might help UT out when the brackets are being decided.
[UPDATE: Maybe make-up matches could happen. Georgia and Mississippi State just announced they’re playing postponed games next week.]
There is an outside shot that UT might be considered for the NCAA Tournament. #1 Kentucky (19-1) and #2 Florida (19-3) are locks. If the NCAA wanted to take another SEC team, the next three contenders would be #3 Missouri (15-7), #4 Arkansas (14-8), and #5 Tennessee (12-8). So how to compare them?
- If you look at their record against only each other: Tennessee went 3-1, Missouri went 2-2, and Arkansas went 1-3.
- If you look at how well they each did against Kentucky and Florida: Missouri won 4 sets, Tennessee won 1 set, and Arkansas won 0 sets.
- If you look at how many wins they have in the more recent spring portion of the season: Missouri has 9, Tennessee has 8, and Arkansas has 8.
- If you look at how many losses they have in the more recent spring portion of the season: Tennessee has 4, Missouri has 5, and Arkansas has 6.
- If you look at their best two wins: Tennessee’s are to #3 & 3, Missouri’s are to #4 & #4, and Arkansas’ are to #6 & #6.
- If you look at their worst two losses: Missouri’s are to #5 & #6, Arkansas’ are to #5 & #8, and Tennessee’s are to #9 & 10.
- What about those cancellations: Tennessee didn’t get to play 4 matches that both Missouri and Arkansas did play and won, while Tennessee won 2 matches Missouri and Arkansas missed out on playing. Assume each team would have done just as well as the others and Missouri remains #3 at 17-7, Arkansas stays #4 at 16-8, but Tennessee moves up one spot to #4 at 16-8, tied with Arkansas and just one game behind Missouri.
So what am I getting at? If the NCAA wants a third SEC team, there are logical reasons they could go after Tennessee over Missouri and Arkansas, with the top considerations being their record vs those two teams and the NCAA’s tendency to look more favorably at recent matches (like the Spring) rather than results from the beginning of the season (like the Fall).
That said, there is a huge elephant in the room. The Tournament will only take 48 teams this year. So it’s very likely that the SEC will only get one at large bid this year. However, some big names in volleyball are calling on the NCAA to expand the Tournament back to its usual 64 team field. If that happens, a Tennessee bid could be more likely.
We’ll all find out together on Sunday, April 4 when the Selection Show will reveal the bracket!
The Lady Vols could be in contention for some league and regional awards, though like with the potential Tournament bid, there will be some stiff competition.
Ava Bell, Madison Bryant, Lily Felts, Natalie Hayward, Morgahn Fingall, and Danielle Mahaffey should get some consideration for All-SEC teams.
Bryant should get a look as SEC Libero of the Year. She won SEC Defensive Player of the Week once, is the conference leader in digs and digs per set, and has a stellar reception percentage — and she did it all without being the libero for the first six matches of the season!
Her competition includes:
- Gabby Curry (UK) – PROS: Won the award the last two seasons; won Defensive Player of the Week twice; her team won the SEC Championship. CONS: behind Bryant in digs per set (5th); not as good as Bryant in reception percentage.
- Elli McKissock (UF) – PROS: won Defensive Player of the Week once; her team came in second in conference. CONS: just behind Bryant in digs per set (2nd); not as good as Bryant in reception percentage; freshman so might be considered for that award instead.
- Raigen Cianciulli (LSU) – PROS: won Defensive Player of the Week twice. CONS: behind Bryant in digs per set (3rd); not as good as Bryant in reception percentage; her team has losing record.
- Madelyn St. Germain (UA) – PROS: won Defensive Player of the Week once. CONS: behind Bryant in digs per set (4th); not as good as Bryant in reception percentage; her team has losing record.
Again, like the NCAA bid, Bryant has a shot at the award, but it is by no means a lock.
I’ll be posting the news about potential awards and tournament bids over the next week or so. And we’ll wrap things up with a recap of what’s been a really weird year for volleyball!
And then please be sure to stick around a little longer. In a couple of weeks I’ll have a major announcement about this site that you’ll want to hear about!
The Lady Vols earned a hard fought five-set win (26-28, 25-23, 25-16, 18-25, 15-11) over LSU to finish of the regular season with a 12-8 record. Much more tonight.
UPDATE: Morgahn Fingall led the team with 19 kills. Lily Felts had 15 and Ava Bell had 14. Bell had a career high 9 blocks, 4 of them solo — she was one block shy of the first UT double-double that included blocks since 2018. Danielle Mahaffey added in 4 blocks, and Felts and Fingall 3 each. The team had a season high 15 team blocks. Natalie Hayward had 48 assists. Madison Bryant dug up 17 balls, while Fingall and Hayward earned double-doubles with 13 and 12 digs respectively.
The Lady Vols allowed their opponent no aces, the first time they’ve done that in a five-set match since 2011.
Tennessee’s hitting percentage of .173 was their 20th lowest in a win during the rally-scoring era. They were just .001 ahead of LSU’s .172 hitting percentage.
This was the third match of the season where three UT players had 14 or more kills in a match. The Lady Vols haven’t achieved that feat since the 2011 SEC Championship team.
Tennessee won their penultimate match of the regular season this afternoon (22-25, 25-18, 25-23, 26-25). More tonight.
UPDATE: Morgahn Fingall had a stellar 23 kills in the match. Lily Felts and Ava Bell had the next most with 8 each. Bell led the team with 4 blocks, with Danielle Mahaffey just behind her at 3. Natalie Hayward put up 42 of the team’s 46 assists. Madison Bryant had 13 digs.
Fingall’s 23 kills were a career high for her. It was also the 40th most kills in a UT match in the rally-scoring era, and the 12th most in a four-set match in that time. Only four Lady Vol matches in the last seven years have seen a player score more kills than that.
Lady Vol Madison Coulter played her last match during the fall portion of the 2020 season. But until about a week before her Senior Night back in November, I didn’t know she was leaving early. So I wasn’t prepared! Time to make up for that now. Here’s a quick look back at Coulter’s time wearing the orange and white, in some amazing stats, some potentially embarrassing old photos, and some quotes from her signing back in 2017.
• Coulter on choosing Tennessee: “I’ve grown up loving Tennessee and being proud of the state I live in. I am beyond fortunate to say that I get to represent the great state that raised me. As a little girl, I never missed a football or Lady Vol basketball game, and to know that my childhood dreams are coming to fruition is really something special.”
• Then head coach Rob Patrick: “We’re excited to have such a talented homegrown player join our program. Madison is a very skilled player as her back row skills are advanced as her attacking skills at the net. She will be looking to compete as a six-row rotation right side/outside position.”
• Former coach Angel Babelay: “To watch her do what she’s always wanted to do and reach her goal is awesome to see as a coach. I can remember her coming off the bus when she was in second or third grade and coming into the gym and wanting to pass and play. She’d just hang out with us and sometimes jump in there during drills. That’s what it’s all about. Getting them started young and seeing how fun volleyball is and seeing them set goals and succeed.”
• Coulter on her new teammates and goals: “I love all the girls and I’m excited that I get to play with such incredible people. It’s exciting to be part of such a great class… I want to bring leadership and a way for people to laugh and not take things so seriously, but in a way that will still take us to the goal of winning.”
While she didn’t play the spring portion of the schedule, Madison Coulter was an important part of the team this season. In fact, until last week, despite not having played since November she was still the SEC leader in digs per set! But she wan’t just an asset this year, she’s been a big part of the team’s success throughout her Lady Vol career.
She started off as an outside hitter her freshman year. She had 118 kills and 37 blocks. But even then her defensive skills were on display. She dug up 193 balls, third best on the team behind only the libero and the setter. She notched 3 double-doubles that year. Coulter had a 21 dig performance vs Texas A&M, a phenomenal number for a freshman playing an offensive role on the team at the time — and her first of many times reaching that milestone.
in 2018 she moved to libero, a position she had never previously played — and became a defensive star for Tennessee! Her sophomore digs total of 369 and her 3.58 digs per set are both the 19th most in school history. She topped those numbers her junior year with the 11th most digs in school history at 429 and the 9th best digs per set average with 3.97.
Coulter finished with 1,102 digs, the 14th most by a Lady Vol ever. She’s just the 17th Tennessee player to reach 1,000 digs. Her final 3.31 digs per set stands as the 6th best in school history.
One of the highlights of her career has to be her helping lead the team to a 26-6 overall record and 16-2 record in conference in 2018 — in her first season at a new position. The team with a first-time libero, who the year before finished 11th in the league, fell just one game short of an SEC Championship! UT earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2012. In their first round match, after falling into a 0-2 hole, the team came roaring back to win the next three sets and advance. Coulter put up 29 digs in the effort, breaking the school record for digs in an NCAA Tournament match that had been set back in 1993.
Coulter had 14 matches in her career where she reached 21 or more digs. Her career high of 35 digs ranks as the 9th best in UT history. She’s one of only eight Lady Vols to ever reach 30 digs in a match. And she’s one of just three UT players all-time to have had 12 matches with 23+ digs.
I can say without much hyperbole that Madison Coulter has been almost criminally under-appreciated when it has come time to hand out awards. Like Coulter, four other Lady Vols had 14 or more matches in their careers where they reached at least 21 digs. One (from the side-out scoring era before 2001) was named All-SEC. The other three (from the rally-scoring era since 2001) were all AVCA All-America Honorable Mentions and all won multiple SEC Defensive Player of the Week awards. Two were named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. How many All-SEC, AVCA All-America, All-Region, or Defensive Player of the Week awards did Coulter win during her time on Rocky Top?
In fact her ONLY playing award in four years was being named to the 2019 Tennessee Classic All-Tournament Team.
While her trophy count may be few, her accomplishments on the court and the memories she has left for Tennessee fans are many. Huge thanks to the local girl who stuck around to play for her hometown school. You’ve been a Lady Vol fan since you were young, and now you’ll be a Lady Vol For Life. And through your talent and your willingness to make difficult changes that were best for your team, you’ve set an example for all the other future Lady Vols to come.
The Lady Vols take on LSU here in Knoxville in what will probably be the last matches of the season.
Still no official word announced on postponed matches being rescheduled. UT put out a Tweet that said “Last chance to catch the Lady Vols at home this season” and a promotional email with the subject line “Final spring volleyball matches”. My guess is since the matches to be made up probably won’t effect the NCAA Tournament bids, they won’t be played.
Tennessee is 25-38 all-time vs LSU. UT is 4-6 in the last ten meetings and 4-6 in the last ten meetings at home.
Over a 13 day period, UT will have played 6 matches on six different days in 3 different states after their games this week.
After a 5-11 start, the Tigers have gone on a 4 match winning streak.
LSU’s Taylor Bannister has been named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week for the last two weeks in a row.
If the Lady Vols win both matches this week AND Texas A&M loses one of their two matches to Florida AND Missouri loses both matches to Mississippi State, Tennessee would finish 4th place in the SEC behind Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas (assuming no other makeup games were played).
Tickets for the match can be purchased online here. Important match information relating to COVID precautions should be read in advance of attending here. There are some promotions this week, including trivia questions which will require an app download, music bingo, fan appreciation day, and concession discounts. More info can be found here.
Knoxville TN LSU Wednesday, March 24th, 2:00pm ET Stats | Video Thursday, March 25th, 2:00pm ET Stats | Video
The Lady Vols struck back in the second match of their series with Alabama, getting a 3-1 win (25-16, 23-25, 25-18, 25-20). Four players had double digit kills: Morgahnn Fingall with 16, Lily Felts and Jasmine Brooks with 11, and Ava Bell with 10. Danielle Mahaffey put down 7 blocks, and Fingall and Bell added in 5 more each. Natalie Hayward had 42 assists. Madison Bryant had her second 20+ dig match with 21. Felts earned double-double number #17 with 10 digs.
The Lady Vols started strong but fell to Alabama in four sets (12-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-15). More info after tomorrow’s match.
UPDATE: Morgahn Fingall led UT with 11 kills with Lily Felts just behind at 10. Ava Bell had 5 blocks, Fingall had 4. Natalie hayward put up 31 assists. Madison Bryant dug up 18 balls.