Lady Vols Fall to Fighting Illini 2-3 in Season Opener
The No. 19 Tennessee volleyball team opened their regular season slate against No. 6 Illinois on Friday to kick off Labor Day weekend.
The Lady Vols fell just short of a victory against the Fighting Illini in five sets (26-24, 25-23, 22-25, 17-25, 20-21), starting off their 2019 campaign, 0-1.
Friday's match is the first of two that Tennessee will play against Illinois this weekend.
All eyes have been on the Tennessee seniors for this upcoming season and they did not disappoint in match one. Sedona Hansen ended the game with 47 assists and 28 digs total, Alyssa Andreno had 11 kills and three blocks, and Tessa Grubbs finished with an impressive 29 kills.
“We’re going to rely on them a lot,” head coach Eve Rackham said. “They’re senior veteran players, they’ve played in a lot of matches, and they have a ton of experience, so we’re going to rely on them to carry us match-in and match-out.”
Grubbs responded to the pressure put on by Illinois in the final three matches, even after going down with a leg injury in the fourth. She was able to tie things up in the fifth and push the team’s momentum back before the final score of 21-23.
“Obviously Tessa Grubbs is great,” stated Andreno. “She’s great night-in and night-out so we rely a lot on her.”
Going to Five
After a strong first two matches by Tennessee, the momentum shifted in the third and continually declined in the fourth. Illinois was able to come back and win three in a row after tying the match at 19 and winning 25-22 at the end of the third.
The Lady Vols were then pushed harder, but Illinois’ offense dominated in the fourth, leaving the score 25-17.
“I think they expose us from the service line quite a bit as the match went on,” stated Rackham. “I felt like our serve-receive broke down and as the match went on our defense started to get a little bit undisciplined, but that’s what good teams make you do. They get you out of your comfort zone a little bit and I think that’s what happened.”
Throughout the game Tennessee used all its challenges, but during the fifth challenges were being called in every direction. Coach Rackham made her first challenge in the fourth on an inside ball to no avail. Illinois then challenged an inside ball in the fifth, but Tennessee retained the point.
Rackham made one last attempt to challenge in the fifth on the final play, but it was rejected, and Illinois took home the victory.
“It’s fast and the stakes are magnified,” explained Rackham. “I was proud of the kids for the fight they had but I think we made it really hard on ourselves.”
The Lady Vols will travel to Urbana-Champaign, Illinois this weekend to face off against the Fighting Illini again on Sunday at 2 p.m. for their second meeting. The game will mark the first of a six-match road tilt for Tennessee.