The Lady Vols bested LSU in four sets to take game one of the final home series of the season, 3-1 (22-25, 25-18, 25-23, 26-24). With this win, the Lady Vols snap the Tigers’ four game win streak and improve to 11-8 on the year, keeping their NCAA tournament hopes alive.
The Lady Vols were led by Morgahn Fingall, who posted a career high 23 kills, accounting for 24 total points in her best performance as a Lady Volunteer this season. Fingall posted nine kills in the fourth set alone, exceeding the kill count that all but two Tigers posted throughout the entire match.
"She was kind of the go to. I liked the matchup we were getting with her, so I told Natalie (Hayward) to just keep giving her the ball,” head coach Eve Rackham-Watt said. “I love watching her develop and grow out there. She continues to get better and she continues to be relied on.”
The Lady Vols started the match on the wrong foot. LSU’s Taylor Bannister and Whitney Foreman were red-hot to start the day, combining for eight kills and leading their team to a 25-22 victory to take a 1-0 set lead.
The Lady Vols defense tightened up quickly following set one. Throughout the rest of the match, Bannister was held to a total of just 11 kills, among her lowest on the season. Bannister, fresh off a performance of 48 kills across two matches last week against Georgia, was unable to control the pace of the match after set one.
"It didn’t feel like she had 11 kills.” Coach Rackham said. “She’s a really good player, so I anticipate her bouncing back from that.”
Set two was back-and-forth throughout. Set two saw the two teams tie the score five separate times, before the Lady Vols started to pull away. With the board sitting at 14-13, Tennessee put together a five point run, something the Tigers would never be able to counter.
Set three was also decided by runs. After back-and-forth action saw LSU jump to a 21-18 lead, Tennessee found an extra gear, putting together a 7-2 run to close out the set and take the 2-1 advantage. Ava Bell was especially important in this run for the Lady Vols, contributing four kills that would prove instrumental in Tennessee’s victory.
Set four was the among the closest of the season for the Lady Vols, but also the most important. Behind Fingall’s nine kills, as well as a combined five kills by Jasmine Brooks and Lily Felts, the Lady Vols were able to win the set 26-24, once again defending a late rally by the Tigers behind three straight blocks by LSU’s Karli Rose.
Wednesday’s victory over LSU kept Tennessee’s NCAA tournament hopes alive, but for the Lady Vols, there is still work to be done.
"I definitely think (Thursday’s rematch is) going to be different. I think they're going to scout us a little more.” Fingall later stated. “I think we have to continue service pressure into tomorrow and make sure we are siding out quickly and going on runs."