KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Madie Jones cranked 13 kills on a .303 hitting percentage, but the LSU volleyball team was handed a 3-0 loss by Tennessee (20-25, 19-25, 21-25) Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena to complete a SEC season's long four-match road swing.
LSU (12-16, 8-11 SEC) dropped its third straight match. The last time the Tigers lost three consecutive SEC matches was during the 2004 season. Tennessee (21-6, 14-4 SEC), who was receiving votes in the latest edition of the AVCA Top 25 poll, has won 12 of its last 13 matches going back to October 5.
The team-leading 13 kills for Jones enabled her to surpass Michele Williams (2008-11) for 16th place on LSU's all-time list.
"You can't say enough about Madie's performances during the second half of the season," head coach Fran Flory said. "What a great senior, too bad we weren't able to get more balls to her during the rotations she was in the match. She was doing a fantastic job of siding out for us. The bad part is that Tennessee was able to side back out right away."
Desiree Elliott provided 12 kills, eight digs and four blocks for the Tigers. Marissa Maas continued her strong play as of late and was involved in seven of LSU's 10 blocks. Maas along with Khourtni Fears added three kills apiece.
Cati Leak was bottled up for two kills on 31 swings en route to a negative hitting percentage. She was able to chip in eight digs, four blocks and an ace.
"Changing the lineup for this weekend created some different opportunities for Desiree, and I thought she fought through extremely well," Flory said. "She played patient, made some nice touches on the defensive side and made key plays from the backcourt which is something she hasn't been able to do in the past. She also passed well against two tough serving teams, Florida and Tennessee, so a great step in the right direction for her."
Tennessee was led by Leslie Cikra's 17 kills on a .387 hitting ratio. The Lady Vols also received double dips from Mary Pollmiller [38 assists, 10 digs] and Kelsey Robinson [11 kills, 16 digs]. Kayla Jeter tacked on nine kills, five digs and two blocks, while DeeDee Harrison knocked six kills on 12 errorless swings. Ellen Mullins tabulated a match-high 19 digs from the libero spot.
"Tennessee is awfully hard to defend because they have four or five different options that can kill balls for them," Flory said. "We felt that we had to turn it into a defensive match to be successful, and credit them for answering the call. They were able to outdig us, and their veteran players were able to make the difference making plays late in sets."
Tennessee raced out to a 12-4 advantage sparked by a trio of kills from Cikra and Jeter to seize control of the opening set. The Tigers were able to piece together a late rally and cut the deficit down to four points at 23-19 after an Elliott-Maas block followed by a Maas kill. The Lady Vols closed out the 25-20 victory with a block on Jones. Jeter led the way and powered home six of her nine kills during the stanza.
Set two was a back-and-forth affair that featured seven ties early in the frame. After splitting the first 24 points, Tennessee surged out to a 15-12 lead after a Robinson kill coupled with two LSU hitting errors. The Tigers pulled back within a single tally on three separate occasions, the latest at 19-18. Robinson cranked two more spikes to vault the Lady Vols back in-front by a 21-18 margin. At 23-19, Harrison and Cikra connected kills to cap a spurt of six of the final seven points to claim the 25-19 win.
LSU led during the opening moments of the third set as Jones cranked three quick kills. A Fears kill put the Tigers up 11-10, but Tennessee ripped off three quick points ignited by a Cikra kill to go along with two LSU hitting miscues. The Tigers evened the ledger at 13-13 after an Elliott kill and a Leak-Maas stuff on Robinson. Starting at 15-15, the two teams traded 11 consecutive sideout before Tennessee was able to secure another strong finishing kick. Cikra popped a quartet of kills down the stretch to lift the Lady Vols to a 25-21 victory which allowed UT to finish off the sweep.
"We were able to turn it into our style of match about midway through the first set," Flory said. "The bottom line was we couldn't produce enough offense, and we just weren't able to put enough balls away. Tennessee was able to hit over the top of us, they were a little more physical and have a little more size than we do. I give credit to their big-time players for playing big time. The nice thing is that our players fought hard once again. We never quit, and I'm very appreciative of their effort."
LSU wraps up the regular season Wednesday versus Arkansas. First serve is slated for 8 p.m., and the match will be televised by ESPNU with Adam Amin and Maria Taylor serving as the broadcast team. Live stats for Wednesday's match are available inside the Geaux Zone at LSUsports.net/live.
Admission to all 2012 home matches at the Maravich Center is free compliments of the Advocate's "Geaux Free" program. At every home match, LSU will be collecting pet supplies at the fan zone as part of its "PAWS in the PMAC" campaign to benefit the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society.
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