Kentucky Suffers Heartbreaking Five-Set Loss at Tennessee

Nov. 26, 2009

Box Score

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.  –   With Kentucky trailing by two sets the Wildcats put together a spectacular comeback effort to force a deciding fifth frame only to come up short in the final set when Tennessee claimed a 16-14 fifth set win to take the match. Tennessee captured the 3-2 (25-16, 25-14, 24-26, 17-25, 16-14) win and prevented the Wildcats from claiming a share of the Southeastern Conference title.

Kentucky (27-4, 17-3) had four players reach double-figures in the kill column led by Sarah Mendoza's 15 kills. Blaire Hiler matched a career-high with 14 with Lauren Rapp posting 12 and Gretchen Giesler adding 10. Senior setter Sarah Rumely dished out 53 assists and had a double-double with 12 digs. Mendoza also charted a double-double effort when she paced the squad with 18 scoops.

Tennessee limited UK's high-octane offense to just a .171 hitting percentage. It was the second time this season the Lady Vols' defense got the better of the Wildcats as Tennessee is the only team to keep Kentucky under a .200 hitting percentage.

Becky Pavan contributed nine kills and led the team with five blocks. BriAnne Sauer had 16 digs from her libero position and Stephanie Klefot added nine scoops.

In the deciding fifth stanza the Volunteers began the scoring for the fourth time in the match with an opening kill. Pavan quickly responded with a kill for the Blue and White to knot the score at one apiece. The teams continued to trade points until UK got back-to-back kills from Hiler to give the Blue and White a 6-4 advantage and force Tennessee into an early timeout.

Out of the break the Volunteers scored on a block but Hiler once again came up with an answer when she slammed down a ball that split the defense for a 7-5 advantage for the Blue and White. UK claimed an 8-6 advantage into the switching of benches after a kill from Pavan.

Once again the squads traded points back and forth until Kentucky broke free for consecutive points to earn a three-point edge at 12-9. After a length rally Rumely swiftly found a spot to give the Blue and White the cushion and force Tennessee to use its final timeout.

Kentucky earned set point with a 14-10 lead behind a kill from Hiler. However, the home team was able to save set point on four occasions and tie the score at 14. Tennessee used its momentum and finished the set by taking the final six points and earn a 16-14 set five win spoiling UK's title hopes.

UK hit .286 in the fifth stanza and Tennessee's offense erupted for a .379 average and 11 kills despite 14 hammers from the Wildcats.

Trailing by two sets the Wildcats came out of the gate and for the first time in the match the Blue and White scored the opening point of the set when Hiler tossed down a kill for the visitors to begin the third set. Tennessee responded with a kill of its own and the teams traded points back and forth until a Rapp kill and a Klefot service ace gave the Wildcats a 5-3 edge. Kentucky maintained its two-point advantage until Tennessee made the score 9-8 after a long rally that featured great defense by both squads. Kentucky responded with a masterful transition kill from Giesler to give UK its two-point cushion back.

After the squads swapped points UK scored three straight to take a 12-9 advantage and force Tennessee into a timeout. A Giesler kill, Tennessee hitting error capped off by Hiler's kill formed the string of points for the Blue and White. Out of the break the Wildcats trio of Hiler, Pavan and Rapp rejected a Nikki Fowler attempt to give UK its largest of the set at 13-9.

The Wildcats continued to maintain a two-to-three point advantage throughout much of the middle portions of the frame. Consecutive hitting errors by the Volunteers enabled the Blue and White to stretch its lead to 20-16 and the Lady Vols opted to use its final timeout. Out of the break the Volunteers tossed another attempt out of bounds to stretch the Wildcats lead to 21-16. Tennessee then scored on three consecutive possessions to get back to within 21-19.

After a Kentucky called timeout Tennessee scored the next point to get to within one point, but Rapp quickly answered with kill of her own. The visitors were able to grab a one-point edge when they scored the next three points behind a kill, a block and then UK committed a hitting error to aid the cause. UK chose to take its final timeout trailing by one point.

Rapp answered the call and found a hole in the back corner to tie the score at 23. The home team earned set point with a kill after a long rally and point in transition after UK had to save a ball that sailed deep into the endzone. Rapp once again came up with a huge kill to save the point. It was Kentucky's turn to benefit from a length rally when Giesler was able to lay down a ball after a spectacular display of defense on both sides of the net. The set ended when Giesler found another hole in the center of the floor to lift the Wildcats to a third set 26-24 set victory and make the score 2-1.

UK used a .170 hitting percentage and 16 kills in the set to earn the win. Rapp paced the offensive attack with five kills in the set and Rumely dished out 16 assists. Kentucky limited Tennessee to a mere .080 hitting clip and 12 kills.

Tennessee scored on a kill to begin the fourth set and benefited from an attacking error by the Wildcats to take a 2-0 edge. Pavan scored for UK with a powerful slam to get the offense jump-started. Kentucky managed to knot the score at three after Tennessee misfired on an attempt. The squads continued to exchange points until UK shook loose for two straight points to make the score 11-9. Hiler and Pavan combined on a block and then Hiler fired down a kill for the Blue and White.

After the Lady Vols knotted the score at 13 the home team committed a service error to give the lead and momentum right back to Kentucky. Mendoza then posted consecutive kills to give the Wildcats a 16-13 edge and Tennessee took the first timeout of the stanza. Out of the timeout, Giesler smartly tapped down a ball, UT committed an error and Mendoza rejected a Tennessee attack on her own to stretch the Wildcat lead to 19-13.

Kentucky never looked back from that point on as it rolled a 25-17 fourth set win to force a deciding fifth set when Pavan and Rapp combined for the final point on a rejection of a Tennessee attempt. Kentucky used a .343 attack percentage and 17 kills led by Mendoza's five in the set. Kentucky's four blocks also proved to be monumental in helping the Wildcats to the victory. 

Tennessee began the opening set by jumping out to a large lead by taking the first seven points of the match. The Lady Vols were able to toss down four kills and force the Blue and White into three hitting errors. With Tennessee up 7-0, Kentucky opted for an early timeout in attempt to quell the Volunteer attack.

Out of the break the home squad earned another block, but Mendoza quickly ended the run with a powerful slam to get the Wildcats on the board. With Tennessee having stretched its lead to 9-1, the Blue and White put together a string of four straight points behind kills from Mendoza and Giesler. The tandem then combined for a block and the final point came on a Tennessee error to pull the Wildcats to within 9-5.

Despite the run to pull to within four, the teams would trade points and the Wildcats were unable to get any closer than four points throughout the frame. With back-to-back UK miscues the Lady Vols went up 19-13 and Kentucky opted to use its final timeout of the set. Tennessee was able to maintain its momentum and earn an opening set victory by a 25-16 margin.

In the opening stanza the Wildcats were limited to just a .030 hitting clip and 10 kills. Kentucky committed eight hitting errors and to accompany four service errors. Tennessee meanwhile hit .214 and tossed down just 11 kills. Tennessee registered four blocks compared to a pair from the Wildcats.

Tennessee opened the second set by claiming the first three points before Mendoza once again scored the first point for the Blue and White with a kill to make the score 3-1. The Volunteers were able to stretch its lead to a six-point advantage at 12-6 where UK took a timeout.

Out of the break the Wildcats scored back-to-back points behind a kill from Rumely and a service error committed by the home team to pull to back to within 12-8. However, the Wildcats would get no closer the rest of the way as the Volunteers took a 2-0 lead into the locker room after Tennessee turned in a 25-14 second set victory.

UK's offense continued to struggle with a .000 hitting clip and just eight kills in the second set. Tennessee used a .370 attacking percentage and tossed down 13 kills in the stanza. The Volunteers turned back four UK attempts and benefited from two more service errors by the visitors.

Kentucky concludes the regular season with tonight's match. The Wildcats will now await the NCAA Tournament selection on Sunday. ESPNews will air the show on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

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