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!
When they call your name ?#LadyVols x North Carolina is coming up! pic.twitter.com/e1ZPXxsFJ7
— 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 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.
It’s a bittersweet week of volleyball for me. Not only will it feature the last home matches of the 2021 season, and the last time the senior Lady Vols will take the court in Knoxville. But it will also be my last time at home covering the team — and if UT gets sent too far away in the tournament, it could be my last ever match covering the team in person! (Yes, I’m assuming UT will not be hosting first round tournament games. Not a given, but I think a safe bet.)
As I said back in April, I’ll be moving out of the state next summer. I’m not ready to say my goodbyes just yet! I’ll wait until after the season to do that. But I can’t help but note the occasion, because I’ve definitely been feeling the emotional weight of knowing that after walking into Stokely Athletic Center and Thompson Boling Arena to watch the Lady Vols play 203 times since 2007, I’m down to my last 2 trips.
But enough looking back — let’s look forward to what’s in store this week as Tennessee hosts Alabama!
UT is 39-19 all-time vs Alabama. The team is 6-4 in their last ten meetings, and 8-2 in their last ten at home.
The Lady Vols are 13-7 since 2001 in Senior Night matches. This will be their first Senior Night match vs the Crimson Tide in that time.
In their 58 all-time meetings, there have been only 7 five-set matches between the teams, with UA having a 3-4 advantage. Alabama has won the last four in a row. Tennessee’s last five-set win over ‘Bama was in 1991. The Lady Vols have never won a five-set match vs Alabama at home.
UT VS UA IN FIVE SETS 1979 12-15, 12-15, 15-10, 15-3, 15-8 Tuscaloosa 1990 7-15, 15-7, 12-15, 15-5, 15-12 Tuscaloosa 1991 15-7, 11-15, 15-13, 12-15, 15-7 Tuscaloosa 2005 30-26, 18-30, 18-30, 31-29, 15-13 Fayetteville 2006 24-30, 20-30, 30-24, 30-28, 15-11 Knoxville 2017 25-20, 23-25, 18-25, 25-23, 15-9 Knoxville 2017 21-25, 25-19, 17-25, 25-18, 15-11 Tuscaloosa
If UT were to win both matches this week, they would be guaranteed their 14th season with 10 or fewer losses since 1978 (not counting the COVID shortened season).
With two wins this week, Tennessee would have 12 home victories, tied for the 12th best total in the last 44 years.
Several players are on the court this weekend are in the top 200 nationally in individual per set statistics.
- Danielle Mahaffey is 9th in blocks with 1.38.
- Natalie Hayward is 26th in assists with 10.73.
- Mahaffey is 49th in hitting percentage at .365.
- Ava Bell is 113th in blocks with 1.10.
- Breana Runnels is 122nd in kills with 3.56.
- Morgahn Fingall is 126th in points with 4.03.
- Runnels is 140th in attacks with 9.74.
- Fingall is 177th in kills with 3.36.
- Alabama’s Abby Marjama is 15th in the nation in aces at 0.49.
The Alabama coaching staff has some deep East Tennessee roots. Head coach Lindsey Devine joined the Tide after a 16-year stint just up the road at ETSU. She ended her run there as their all-time winningest coach. In 2013, she snapped a 19 match losing streak to the Lady Vols dating back to 1979. In her last meeting vs Tennessee in 2018, she gave Eve Rackham her first ever loss as a head coach. Devine’s daughter and current assistant coach, Megan Ailshie, was a member of the Bucs team that broke ETSU’s losing streak. Her 27 kills in that match are still the 15th most by a UT opponent since 2001. She later was the head coach at her alma mater, Dobyns-Bennett High School, and a coach at Kingsport Volleyball Club. Assistant coach Ladislav Lelkes also worked with Devine in Johnson City.
While Friday’s match is obviously Senior Night, be sure not to miss Alumni Night on Thursday. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of past Lady Vols again! No official list announced but UT’s social media links have pictures of Jasmine Brown (2009-2012), Megan Hatcher (2012-2015), Raina Hembry (2013-2016), Taylor Johnson (2014-2015), and the 2011 SEC Championship team.
NATIONAL & CONFERENCE STATISTICAL RANKS
There are several promotions running this week. All military will receive free admission. And showing your South Alabama football ticket will get you into both matches. Thursday’s match is “Fan Appreciation Day” — in previous years that has usually meant more than usual giveaways during the game. On Friday, the first 100 fans will receive a free t-shirt.
Tickets are available online for $5.
Be sure to look over Thompson Boling Arena’s clear bag policy.
Parking and other gameday information can be found online as well.
Knoxville TN Alabama 10-16, 2-12 Thursday, November 18th, 6:30pm ET Live Stats | SEC Network+ Friday, November 19th, 6:30pm ET Live Stats | SEC Network+
Tennessee faced several Mississippi State match points in the third set of tonight’s match, then fought all the way back to a 15-15 fifth set. But they fell just short of completing the comeback bid, losing 25-18, 25-23, 26-28, 15-25, 17-15. More details on Monday.
UPDATE: Morgahn Fingall put down 22 kills in the match, and was followed by Breana Runnels with 13, Lily Felts with 12, and Nicole Shanahan with 7. Danielle Mahaffey blocked 8 balls, Lily Felts a career high 6, and Ava Bell 5. Natalie Hayward had 50 assists along with 21 digs. Madison Bryant dug up 19 attacks, while Runnels added 14, Felts 10, and Paola Laborda 9.
Felts has moved into 8th place by herself in rally-scoring era career double double with 24. With two this weekend, Hayward enters the top ten with her 20th. Also adding two to her tally, Runnels moves into the top twenty with 9.
For just the 35th time in the rally-scoring era, UT did not serve up an ace in the match. That’s the 4th time it’s happened this season. Only once season did Tennessee play more matches without an ace in that time (2013, five aceless matches).
The Lady Vols had more kills, assists, blocks, and a better hitting percentage than the Bulldogs.
To update two stats mentioned on Saturday: For the
thirdfourth time in 2021, Tennessee outhit their opponent in a loss. And in 6 of UT’s 77 of UT’s 8 losses this year they hit over .200. No Tennessee season since 2001 has had a better ratio than 2021 so far (though 2010 matches it).
MSU’s .165 hitting percentage was the 17th lowest by a winning opponent of UT’s in the rally-scoring era.
Mississippi State’s amazing season continued this evening as they knocked off the #24 Lady Vols in a super tight four set battle (25-23, 22-25, 25-23, 25-23).
Breana Runnels led the match with a UT career high tying 21 kills. Danielle Mahaffey and Morgahn Fingall had 10 each. Ava Bell had 6 blocks, Runnels had 5, Mahaffey had 4, and Lily Felts 3. Natalie Hayward put up 42 assists. She and Felts also had 13 digs, with Runnels adding 11 and Madison Bryant getting 10. Hayward and Runnels picked up double-doubles.
For the third time in 2021, Tennessee outhit their opponent in a loss.
In 6 of UT’s 7 losses this year they hit over .200. No Tennessee season has had a better ratio than 2021 so far (though 2010 matches it).
The Lady Vols had a season high 12 service errors. That’s the 17th most in a four set match at the school in the rally-scoring era.
There are only five matches left in the regular season… and hopefully several in the post-season as well! Here’s a look at where some of the Lady Vols stand when it comes to the UT season record book. (Apologies if I’ve missed anyone!)
UT ALL-TIME SEASON RECORDS
• Ava Bell is hitting an incredible .462 in 2021. The UT season record is .416. Bell is hitting .046 above Tennessee Hall of Famer Beverly Robinson’s best year! In fact, Bell’s .462 would also be one of the top averages in conference history — she’ll rank 4th all time in the SEC if it holds!
• Natalie Hayward is also having a quietly big year hitting. Only two Lady Vols have ever ended a season over .400 — the aforementioned Robinson back in 1983, and Bell in 2019. While also handing setting duties, Hayward is at the same time hitting .401!
• Danielle Mahaffey gets more attempts than Bell and Hayward, but is still hitting very strong, currently standing at .384. That would give her the 4th best season in program history in the current record book!
• Hayward has 874 assists on the year. With the regular season games remaining, at her current pace she would reach 1,064. With the addition of a first round tourney game, she would probably enter the UT season top 20 chart. Her current 10.79 assist per set ranks as the 18th best Tennessee season.
• Madison Bryant has 292 digs in 2021 so far. That’s just 52 short of making the UT top 30 list, which should be doable with 5 matches left. From there it would just take 25 more digs to reach the season top 20. Bryant’s 3.60 digs per set already stands as the 18th best season at UT.
• Mahaffey has 101 total blocks on the year and is on pace to reach 123 in the regular season. That’s just 8 short of the school top 20 list, which would be even more within reach with a post-season run. Her 1.38 blocks per set currently is the 6th best all-time at Tennessee.
UT RALLY-SCORING SEASON RECORDS
• Breana Runnels has 272 kills in 2021. She should reach around 331 kills after the next five matches. That would put her into the school single season top 30. She would just need 32 more kills to reach the top 20. Her 3.49 kills per set rank 19th tops in the rally scoring era.
• Morgahn Fingall has 260 kills and is on pace for 317. She’d be just outside the top 30, but could get in with a few post-season games. Her 3.33 kills per set place her 23rd since 2001.
• Mahaffey has 19 solo blocks this year. With one more she’ll become the 5th Lady Vol in the rally-scoring era to reach 20 in a season.
Tennessee defeated the Rebels this afternoon 3-0 (25-17, 26-24, 25-20). More details tonight.
UPDATE: Breana Runnels led the team with 14 kills. Morgahn Fingall had 12. Danielle Mahaffey had 3 blocks. Natalie Hayward had 44 assists. Madison Bryant dug up 17 digs. Runnels picked up the double-double with 11 digs.
UT hit a season high of .400 — the program’s 22nd best hitting percentage of the rally-scoring era.
Six Lady Vols with 5+ attacks hit .250 or better. Only two matches since 2001 had more. Five Lady Vols with 5+ attacks hit .350 or better. Only one match since 2001 had more.
The Lady Vols start a three match stretch vs teams from the Magnolia State, beginning at home vs Mississippi then on the road next week at Mississippi State.
UT is 46-11 all-time vs the Rebels. The team is 6-4 in the last ten meetings but 9-1 in the last ten matches in Knoxville.
UT is 51-12 all-time vs the Bulldogs. The team is 8-2 in the last ten meetings and 7-3 in the last ten matches in Starkville. The Lady Vols currently have a seven-match winning streak in the series.
Tennessee’s top two best records over SEC opponents are against the two Mississippi teams.
UT VS THE SEC 51-12 .810 46-11 .807 39-19 .672 36-20-1 .640 50-30 .625 41-32 .562 25-21 .543 10-11 .476 28-39 .418 7-10 .412 30-54 .357 14-54-1 .210
If UT were to win all three matches over the next week, they would be guaranteed their 14th season with 10 or fewer losses since 1978 (not counting the COVID shortened season).
Tennessee will be appearing on ESPN2 for the first time in the rally-scoring era when they take on Mississippi on Sunday. The Lady Vols are 40-59 in televised matches since 2001. They’re 22-25 at home when on TV.
Both Mississippi schools are having stellar seasons. The Rebels started the season 12-0. They currently rank 6th in the conference — they haven’t finished better than 7th since the league went division-less in 2013. The Bulldogs are having in even bigger year. After only 8 winning seasons in 46 years (all but one of them being in the .500s), MSU is currently 19-5 overall (.792) — one win away from their first 20-win season since 1989. They stand 2nd in the SEC at 10-2 — after never previously having a winning conference record! Mississippi is rated 35th in the RPI and Mississippi State 30th.
UM head coach Kayla Banworth faced Tennessee on the court as a player back in 2007. Her #1 Nebraska team defeated UT 3-0.
MSU head coach Julie Darty Dennis has faced Tennessee at every stop in her coaching career. She started as an assistant coach at Villanova where, in 2011, her team lost a match in the Lady Vol Classic 3-0. As an assistant at South Carolina in 2013 and 2014, the Gamecocks went 2-1 vs Tennessee. When she was head coach of Jacksonville, her squad lost to UT in the College of Charleston Invitational in 2015. At MSU, she’s currently 0-6 vs Tennessee.
NATIONAL & CONFERENCE STATISTICAL RANKS
Tickets are available online for $5.
Sunday’s home match will be Kids Day, with free admission for kids under 12 and the first 100 kids receiving an ice cream sundae.
Be sure to look over Thompson Boling Arena’s clear bag policy.
Parking and other gameday information can be found online as well.
Knoxville TN Mississippi 17-5, 6-5 Sunday, November 7th, 2:00pm ET Stats | ESPN 2
Starkville MS Mississippi State 19-5, 10-2 Saturday, November 13th, 2:00pm ET Stats | SEC Network+ Sunday, November 14th, 2:00pm ET Stats | SEC Network+