After coming off a tough opening weekend against SEC rival, Kentucky, the Tennessee (1-2) volleyball team started things off right in its home opener against Georgia (1-2). With a starting seven consisting of Natalie Hayward, Rocky Perinar, Madison Bryant, Lily Felts, Ava Bell, Danielle Mahaffey,and Madison Coulter at libero, Tennessee claimed the win (3-1).
“We’re just really thankful,” head coach Eve Rackham explained. “I thought for having a limited capacity crowd, our fans showed up and were tremendous. We could really hear them and it made it feel like a home court advantage, even in this strange time. When I walked out I felt like ‘Wow, we’re actually here and it’s been a year!’ We’re here, we’re playing, and there are so many people who have helped us get here. So we’re just thankful and excited for the opportunity to play at home.”
The Lady Vols kicked off set one with an early lead, with the Bulldogs trailing behind 11-8. Bell and Mahaffey combined for a massive block that pushed Tennessee even further ahead to 21-14. Mahaffey wasn’t finished and delivered the kill that gave Tennessee the 25 points they needed to take the first (25-16).
“Compete and be vocal,” Mahaffey said. “Those are two things constantly in my mind and constantly in the team’s mind. We’re always competing and fighting and communicating with one another, and it really takes us a long way when we do.”
Set two came just as easy for the Lady Vols, gaining another early lead with the help of kills from Felts and Bell. Despite Georgia’s best efforts from a comeback within the set, Tennessee took the second (25-19).
Set three didn’t go as smoothly for the Lady Vols. After Georgia took advantage of some Tennessee mistakes, the Lady Vols found themselves behind for the first time. While they did push hard for a comeback thanks to a kill and ace from Mahaffey, the Bulldogs took the set (26-24).
“Tomorrow we need to take advantage of those in-between plays where players are hesitating and nobody knows who should play the ball,” Felts said. “We have to take advantage of those because just those two or three points a set that we’re losing on balls dropping between two players can be the difference. We lost by two points in the third set so if we can eliminate those plays I think we can bring it down to three sets tomorrow.”
Tennessee quickly bounced back in set four, taking an early three-point lead and forcing a timeout from Georgia. The Lady Vols continued to push and with the help of aces from Giana Pellizzon and Mahaffey, Tennessee held on to its lead and defeated the Bulldogs (25-15).
“Looking at the group of six to nine players in the rotation that came in and contributed, there was really just a comfort level,” Rackham said. “There was a calm competitiveness that was fun to watch. I’m just happy for them because they’re put in a lot of work, especially in the last week and a half to just compete.”
The Lady Vols will play Georgia again tomorrow at home at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.