Lady Vol Volleyball vs Ole Miss

Natalie Hayward (2) serves the ball to the Ole Miss rebels in Thompson-Boling Arena on November 9, 2021. 

The Tennessee volleyball team celebrated six seniors and two graduate students Friday night with a dominant three-set sweep (25-16, 25-12, 25-21) over Alabama at Thompson-Boling Arena. The match was also the Lady Vols’ last home game of the regular season.

Tennessee’s seniors included setter Natalie Hayward, outside hitters Lily Felts and Rocky Perinar, defensive specialist Giana Pellizzon and middle blockers Ava Bell and Danielle Mahaffey. The team's two graduate students were outside hitter Breanna Runnels and middle blocker Nicole Shanahan. Pellizzon, Perinar, Felts and Mahaffey were all under head coach Eve Rackham-Watt for her entire Tennessee career. 

“It's emotional,” Rackham-Watt said after the game. “I'm just really proud of the eight we have. They all kinda have their own unique story and journey, but as a group, they've been unbelievable role models for this program and the players below them. I couldn't be more proud of the group we have.” 

Tennessee’s (19-8, 11-7 SEC) win was a true team effort. Eight different Lady Vols had at least 2 kills against Alabama. Runnels and Mahaffey led the team both with 9 kills. Perinar, who has seen limited action this season, had a stellar game with 4 kills, 2 service aces and 9 digs. The Lady Vols finished the night with a hitting percentage of .274% and had 13 blocks.    

“Practicing every day and continuing to be mindful about every rep I take in practice,” Mahaffey said. “Just work with my teammates and continue to work hard. I know this is senior night but we have a lot more season left.”   

Alabama and Tennessee fought early, scoring back and forth in the set. The Lady Vols, however, edged out and kept the lead midway through the set. Mahaffey was instrumental in the opening set, notching back-to-back kills and making clutch blocks at the net. Tennessee cruised past Alabama in the opening set 25-16. 

The Lady Vols' dominance continued into the second set. The Big Orange put up 4 unanswered points before the Tide was able to get on the board. Alabama could never build up momentum to compete. Perinar’s service ace put Tennessee up by a commanding 11-point lead the Lady Vols easily took set two 25-16.

“From the first moment I stepped on the campus, I knew this school was a lot different with the atmosphere and support that all the fans give,” Perinar said after the game. “Just looking out in the crowd and seeing my family supporting me. It was really something special with the crowd and with my teammates by my side.” 

Alabama, facing being swept for the second time on Rocky Top, made a valiant effort in the third and final set. In the first timeout of the set, Tennessee held just a 4-point lead.

Tennessee managed to fight off the comeback and keep a healthy lead all the way to match point. After an Alabama kill, a Tennessee service error and then an Alabama ace — Tennessee finally won the set 25-21. 

Tennessee bounced back from back-to-back losses on the road with two dominant, three-set sweeps. The Lady Vols will travel to Columbia, Missouri, Wednesday for their final game of the season.  

“We got one more,” Rackham-Watt said. “We want to finish on a high note. But the message I’ve been giving to the team a lot this week is ‘We're still working on getting better. We still want to be playing our best volleyball in December. So we’re going to get back to practice and try to get better.'” 

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