Tennessee volleyball (6-6) is looking to get back in the win column this week against Mississippi State. Both teams are looking for their first match wins since early February.
The Lady Vols are coming off a two game sweep by No. 8 Florida, 3-0, 3-0. Despite the best efforts of Morgahn Fingall and Lily Felts, Florida’s relentless offensive attack was too much for Tennessee. The performance from Florida, as well as some friendly fire in the form of attack and service errors by the Lady Vols, handed Tennessee its first series loss since early November.
The matches this week against the Bulldogs will be the first unranked series of the spring season for the Lady Vols. Tennessee is 4-2 against unranked teams thus far in the year.
“We're going to play against a pretty organized team with some confidence and something to prove after their last weekend against Alabama,” head coach Eve Rackham-Watt said concerning Mississippi State. “They're definitely going to present some challenges for us.”
The Bulldogs have had two weekend series postponed so far this season, and like Tennessee, are looking for a spark heading into the final stages of the schedule. Mississippi State is hitting just .189 on the year and averaging just 11 kills per set, compared to opponents hitting .235 with almost 14 kills per set. The struggling Bulldogs have only won two of their last eight matches.
One bright spot for Mississippi State is Gabby Waden, a junior middle blocker/right side hitter who is among the top 10 in the SEC for hitting percentage and kills per set. The South Carolina native has 217 kills in 14 matches, a mark that isn’t remotely contested by anyone else on the Bulldogs’ roster, as no other player has surpassed 100 on the season. On her own, Waden accounts for nearly a third of Mississippi State’s scoring output.
"Her numbers have been good in pretty much every match. She’s their go-to in all situations,” coach Rackham said on Waden. “I think everybody knows that but nobody has really been able to stop her, or at least slow her down.”
Defense will have to be a top priority for the Lady Vols to get back on track and achieve their goal of reaching the NCAA tournament. As of now, the Lady Vols and Bulldogs both average near two blocks per set, but Tennessee has had more production from the defensive specialist position.
The Lady Vols lead the SEC in digs per set with 15.93 across 43 total sets. Sophomore Madison Bryant has embraced her role as Libero and sits at ninth in the SEC in individual digs per set with 3.37.
“(Bryant) gets better every day. Between her and Lily having to anchor the back row and handle all the passing duties, they’ve done a pretty nice job,“ Rackham said.
First serve for Tennessee and Mississippi State will be at 6:30 ET on Friday and Saturday at Thompson-Boling arena.