The Tennessee Volleyball team (18-5, 9-2) heads to Oxford, Miss. on Friday to play Ole Miss (13-12, 3-8). Tennessee currently has a three-game road winning streak, along with four straight in total.
The Lady Vols earned a top 25 spot for the first time under first-year coach Eve Rackham in the most recent AVCA polls. Tennessee had been on the bubble of the polls, getting votes in seven out of the last nine weeks.
“It is nice to have recognition, especially nationally,” head coach Eve Rackham said. “The biggest thing is it is a responsibility now (to be ranked). This is the recognition you shoot for and now it is about being accountable.”
The program has not earned a ranking since 2012, and that season was the last time the Lady Vols made the NCAA tournament.
“We are super excited,” junior Tessa Grubbs said. “We have seen teams in the top 25, and (we thought) we can be that team in the top 25. It was huge for us.”
It has not been all great for the Lady Vols recently; on Sunday they found themselves down 2-0 against rival Georgia. After battling back in the third set for a win, the Lady Vols showed enough in Athens to earn the overall win in the match and a ranking for the first time.
“We need to keep the momentum on the road,” Tessa Grubbs said. “Georgia was a little rocky, and we needed to stay strong.”
A 3-2 win over the Lady Bulldogs pushed the Lady Vols’ record to 4-2 in five set matches, somewhere they have struggled in the past. After starting 0-2 in matches that extended to a fifth set, they’ve won four straight.
“We did not shy away from exposing that we were not good in that situation last year,” Rackham said. “I did not want it to carry over, then we started with two difficult losses.
“So, we sat down and just changed our mindset and we trained in a different way. Now, our team has confidence in knowing what we trained.”
The Lady Vols bring the reigning SEC Player of the Week with them to Oxford in Grubbs. She recorded a career high in Athens with 27 kills.
“She knows she is going to be relied on,” Rackham said. “(She will) get a lot of sets in the match … (She will) continue to work her total game and range; she has done a nice job of accepting (that) role.”
Grubbs and the offense have hit above their average in the past two games. The setters Sedona Hansen and Callie Williams have stepped up for the Lady Vols during the winning streak.
“We are getting good balance,” Rackham said. “We have been working a lot on passing, and it is getting there. We are getting more opportunities in better situations.”
The road trip to Ole Miss presents another challenge for Rackham and her team. They have an opportunity to pass a road test on Friday, but it is just like any other game: the most important one they will play all season.
“You have to play them,” Rackham said. “The next match is the most important match of the season. You have to show up prepared and expecting a challenge (on the road).”