Nov. 16, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Auburn senior Sarah Bullock had a career-high 24 kills, but the Tigers couldn't hold onto a 2-1 lead as Tennessee outlasted Auburn, 3-2 (25-23, 20-25, 31-29, 19-25, 6-15), on Friday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Tigers (17-10, 8-9 SEC) saw a chance at a major SEC victory slip through their fingers as the blocking and service game for Tennessee (20-6, 13-4 SEC) improved dramatically in the final two sets.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed we didn't get the win," Auburn head coach Rick Nold said. "I think we had a good game plan, defensively we did a good job doing the things we wanted to coming into the match. There were some spurts we got a little tentative offensively. In a match like that, you can't do that and expect to win. They made some adjustments and did a good job, but we've got to go out and attack that a little bit better."
Bullock's 24 kills led all hitters in the match as she surpassed a 21-kill effort against Arkansas from her freshman season of 2009 for a career-best output. She picked up her 13th double-double of the year with 14 digs as well, to go along with three blocks.
Joining Bullock with a career-high performance was junior Katherine Culwell, whose 19 digs were a collegiate-best. She also contributed 15 kills for her ninth double-double of the season. Chelsea Wintzinger (28 assists, 18 digs) and Ciara Richards (21 assists, 11 digs) also picked up double-doubles, and Camila Jersonsky contributed 10 kills and a match-high eight blocks.
Chloe Rowand was one shy of a career-high with six blocks to go along with five digs, and Courtney McDonald added six kills of her own. Sarah Wroblicky led the Auburn defense with 21 digs in the match.
For Tennessee, it was right-side hitter Leslie Cikra who was nearly unstoppable. She had 20 kills with just three errors for a .425 attack percentage, while Kelsey Robinson added 15 kills and 13 digs. Libero Ellen Mullins had a match-best 28 digs, and setter Mary Polmiller had two kills with her 59 assists and 11 digs.
The Lady Vols out-hit Auburn .240 -.152 and had 70 kills to Auburn's 61. Tennessee also won the blocking battle with 12.5 stuffs in the match to Auburn's 11.0, but each team had four service aces and Auburn had a season-high 94 digs to UT's 87.
Tennessee jumped to an early lead in the first set at 12-7, but a 7-1 run by the Tigers gave Auburn its first lead at 14-13 on an ace from Ciara Richards, forcing a Lady Vol timeout. From there, the lead would change hands four times before Auburn pulled ahead 23-21 on a Bullock kill and a UT error. Auburn got a set point chance at 24-22 on a Jersonsky kill, and McDonald put the opening frame away at 25-23.
The teams would trade sideouts in set two until it was 19-19 - the 10th tie score of the set - at which point Tennessee scored three straight to take a 22-19 lead. The Lady Vols finished the set on a 6-1 run to win it 25-20, hitting .381 with just one error along with 17 kills.
Set three was a wild affair that saw 20 ties and 12 lead changes before the Tigers finally claimed a 31-29 win to take a 2-1 lead in the match. Bullock recorded 10 kills in the third set alone. Auburn had two set point tries at 24-22, but Cikra got two straight kills to even things up. Auburn would see Tennessee fight off two more chances - likewise, Auburn would fight off three Tennessee set point tries - before a kill from Jersonsky and a block from Jersonsky and Rowand finally ended the third set in favor of the Tigers. Auburn had 19 kills in the set but hit just .138.
Auburn jumped out to a 5-1 lead in set four, but it would prove to be the Tigers' last lead of the match. Tough serving and a rejuvenated block sent Tennessee on a 13-3 run to make it 13-8 Lady Vols, and Auburn would never be closer than five points the rest of the way. Tennessee out-hit Auburn .350 to .200 in the fourth set with 17 kills to the Tigers' 11.
The deciding set would be all Tennessee from the opening serve. Auburn hit .000 with four kills and four errors in the final set, and two Tennessee aces were the tip of the iceberg as the Lady Vols could do no wrong in the service game. After UT jumped out to a 4-0 lead, it would be no closer than a three-point game the rest of the way as Tennessee claimed the match with a 15-6 fifth-set win.
The Tigers will play their final road match of the 2012 season Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. as they take on Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The match will be televised by CSS with Melissa Lee and Angelica Partridge calling the action. Live audio and stats will be available via AuburnTigers.com, and @AUVolleyball on Twitter will provide live updates from courtside.