Tennessee volleyball looks to start the spring season strong Friday and Saturday as they host No. 16 ranked Mizzou at Thompson-Boling arena.
“The opportunity to compete, that’s what everyone is excited about,” head coach Eve Rackham said. “The fact we got to play this fall was great, but it wasn’t a lot.”
In response to COVID-19, the SEC introduced a split-season model that saw an eight match fall slate followed by a 16 match spring season before the NCAA tournament in April. Matches are played on back-to-back days in the same arena to emphasize a safe environment for schools to compete.
Tennessee started the 2020-21 season with two losses at Kentucky, but finished strong by sweeping Auburn to improve to an even 4-4, sixth place in SEC standings. Junior Lily Felts leads the team on the court and looks to extend her six game streak of double-digit kill performances dating back to October against Georgia. Felts also leads the team with 86 digs.
Along with Felts, the Lady Vols are led by junior middle blocker Ava Bell with a team high .357 hit percentage, outside hitters Jasmine Brooks and Danielle Mahaffey, and sophomore Madison Bryant. Look for Bryant to replace star libero Madison Coulter, who departed the team following the end of the fall season.
The No. 16 Tigers are 8-2 on the year and have won six straight, including a spring opening sweep against LSU. Its only losses come at the hands of the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats.
“Mizzou is a really good team. They’re experienced and they’ve got a really great player in Kylie Deberg,” Rackham said. “It'll be interesting to see how we match up against Missouri but I know everyone is excited because they’re a good team and we get to play them at home. It’s going to be a lot about what we do.”
Missouri senior outside hitter Kylie Deberg produced back-to-back 20-plus kill outings against LSU to start the spring season, and is coming off her third SEC Offensive Player of the Week award of the year. Deberg is top 10 in both aces and kills in Missouri school history.
Alongside Deberg is sophomore outside hitter Anna Dixon and freshman libero Emily Brown, who has recorded 140 digs in 10 matches for the Tigers this year.
Tennessee and Missouri are both coming off weekends of postponed matches. The Lady Vols’ series against Texas A&M was postponed over COVID-19 concerns within the Aggies’ program, while Missouri missed an opportunity in Gainesville against the 10th-ranked Florida Gators.
“There's only so much we can control. Our team was really looking forward to going to A&M. That was definitely a letdown, but I know it was to be expected,” Rackham said. “You may end up on one side or the other of postponed weekends.”
Both matches of the weekend series against Missouri start at 6:30 p.m. ET at Thompson-Boling Arena Friday and Saturday. You can also catch the Lady Vols on SEC network plus.