By T. J. Walker
Southeastern Conference teams are supposed to come into Memorial Coliseum, win a set if theyâ€™re lucky, then head back home with a loss. Tennessee must have missed the memo.
For the second straight year, the Volunteers (15-5, 8-2 SEC) knocked off the Cats at home. After crushing the Catsâ€™ dreams of an SEC title in 2008, the Volunteers put a dent in their hopes this year.
â€œWe just didnâ€™t get it done today,â€ senior setter Sarah Rumely said. â€œWeâ€™re not going to look outside the box and try to pinpoint things. Itâ€™s on us, and we need to step back inside the gym and improve on some things.â€
Tennessee defeated the Cats 3-1 (25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 25-22) in front of a boisterous crowd of 2,291 and a national TV audience courtesy of ESPNU. It was UKâ€™s first conference loss and only their second loss overall.
No. 7 UK (19-2, 9-1 SEC) never seemed comfortable in the match, committing 29 errors and five service errors. The Cats hit under .200 for only the third time this season and were constantly trailing the visiting Vols.
â€œTheyâ€™re a really good team, volleyball is a weird sport,â€ junior outside hitter Sarah Mendoza said. â€œIf you donâ€™t play at 100 percent, any team can really beat you and they always play hard against us.â€
UK was led by junior outside hitter Blaire Hiler and Mendoza. Hiler notched 12 kills while Mendoza led the game with 22. However, Mendoza feels UK had no one take control, and that it was a team loss.
â€œMore people needed to step up,â€ Mendoza said. â€œI couldnâ€™t name one person who really stepped up.â€
Tennessee continues to be a thorn in the Catsâ€™ side. In the past four seasons, three of UKâ€™s eight home losses have come against Tennessee.
â€œWe have to respond from this,â€ Rumely said. â€œWeâ€™re a good team but weâ€™re not a great team yet. There are many things we can work on and improve upon which is really encouraging.â€
The game was highlighted by sloppy play and controversial calls. Several times in the match play was stopped, giving a coach time to make his case to an official.
UK came out flat, being down by five several times in the first set. UK then played well enough to clench the second set, but the team says its play was less than satisfactory.
â€œThey just played a lot harder then us,â€ Mendoza said.
UK came out of the halftime break and looked to be refreshed, jumping out to a 10-5 lead, but after a Tennessee timeout and a 9-2 Tennessee run, the Cats found themselves in another dog fight, ultimately falling.
Mendoza and Hiler tried to spark the Cats in the 4th set with 11 kills between the two, but in the end it just wasnâ€™t the Catsâ€™ day.
â€œWe didnâ€™t come in and act like this was our home court and no one beats us on our home court, we didnâ€™t play that tonight unfortunately,â€ Hiler said. â€œSaturday against Louisiana State were going to come out and we have a lot to prove.â€
The Cats will have to bounce back if they want to make their dream of an SEC title a reality.
They host Louisiana State on Saturday. LSU and UK sit on top of their respective divisions with one conference loss each, but the Cats get the tiebreaker due to a 3-0 sweep in Baton Rouge earlier this season.
â€œTheyâ€™re going to have a lot of revenge,â€ Hiler said. â€œThey just beat Florida and itâ€™s going to be a really tough match so were going to play with everything we have.â€