It has been an up-and-down year for the Tennessee volleyball team. The Lady Vols have seen postponements, triumphant victories and heartbreaking losses in what will go down as the first, and possibly only spring season in women’s college volleyball history.
The Lady Vols (10-8) are looking to close this chapter with a bang on Wednesday, as they host LSU (9-11) in the final home series of this historic season.
The Lady Vols are looking to build off the momentum they created in their 3-1 win over Alabama last Saturday. Tennessee, despite being winners of four of its last six, will have its hands full with LSU, however. The red-hot Tigers have won four straight, including two victories against top-ranked Missouri and a couple of gritty wins against Georgia.
"Arguably, they're the hottest team in the conference right now in terms of what they're doing in the second half of the season,” head coach Eve Rackham-Watt said on LSU. “They have multiple players scoring and they're pretty athletic at every position, so I think they present some matchup problems for us.”
Despite its hot streak, LSU has a glaring inconsistency; the Tigers are just 1-9 in away contests on the year, tied for the lowest road record in the SEC alongside Ole Miss. Their last road win came almost four months ago, in the form of a three-set victory against Alabama, a team near the bottom of SEC rankings.
This is favorable for the Lady Vols, a squad that is 4-2 at home in the spring play, with their only loss coming against Florida, one of the strongest teams in the nation.
The Tigers are led by Taylor Bannister, who is second only to Kylie Deberg of Missouri in kills per set with 4.43. The senior leader is coming off a 30 kill performance against Georgia and has totaled 102 kills in the last five matches for the Tigers, more than all but two players on LSU’s roster have totaled the entire season. On top of all this, Bannister is yet to have been held under 10 kills in a single match this season.
"She's really, really good,” Coach Rackham stated. “She's going to be able to get her kills, but we will try to put her in as difficult of situations as possible. We're going to have to make some plays."
If Tennessee’s latest match serves as a testament, several Lady Vols are up to the challenge of controlling LSU’s high-powered offense. Morgahn Fingall and Lily Felts have combined for 48 kills in their last eight sets, including Fingall’s 16 kill performance that put the Lady Vols over Alabama last Saturday.
On the defensive end for the Lady Vols, libero Madison Bryant is sitting alone at the top of the SEC standings with 3.93 digs per set and notched 21 digs in her last outing.
“(This) can be big for us, but we have to come out there and play tough because they’re tough,” Bryant concluded.