KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - On the strength of a 25-7 first set victory, the Lady Vol volleyball team took down No. 15 South Carolina in four sets (25-7, 20-25, 25-20, 25-20) Friday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The victory is UT's first over a ranked opponent since defeating No. 13 Florida in straight-sets on Nov. 21, 2018. It is also the first time since Sept. 8, 2018 that an unranked Tennessee squad took down a ranked opponent - the Lady Vols defeated No. 16 San Diego that day in four sets.
Tennessee (2-3, 2-3 SEC) hit a season-high .295 percent, while holding South Carolina (3-2, 3-2 SEC) to just a .116 hit percentage.
Juniors Lily Felts and Danielle Mahaffey led the offensive charge with 19 and 11 kills, respectively. Felts' 19 kills tie her career-high and it is the second consecutive match she has reached that number. Both players recorded double-doubles as Felts dug 19 balls with Mahaffey coming away with 14 digs.
Felts hit an impressive .375 percent on the night, while Mahaffey hit .346.
Junior Ava Bell had the highest hit percentage for UT, hitting .471. The Austin, Texas, native scored eight kills and earned a season-high eight blocks.
Setter Natalie Hayward continues to run the offense with high efficiency, picking up 42 assists. She added a pair of kills and eight digs to her night's work. As a team, Tennessee blocked an impressive 22 attacks on the night.
The Lady Vols jumped out quick on the Gamecocks, taking a 14-2 lead with the aid of a 12-0 scoring run. South Carolina was never able to stop the bleeding, falling 25-7. The 25-7 first set win is the largest for UT since defeating Milwaukee 25-7 in a third set victory on Sept. 9, 2016.
In the rally-scoring era - since 2001 - it is the first time Tennessee has held an SEC opponent to single digits.
South Carolina found its rhythm on offense and bounced back from the staggering first set loss, winning the set 25-20. The Gamecocks hit .225 in the second stanza and held the Lady Vols to a .156 hitting percentage.
UT kept the second set close thanks to Felts' five kills. Mahaffey and freshman Jasmine Brooks pitched in with three kills each.
With the match tied at 1-1, UT came out firing in the third set and hit .406. Six different Lady Vols recorded a kill with Felts again leading the way with five. Bell clocked four kills, Raquel Perinar picked up three and Brooks added two more.
Both Hayward and Mahaffey earned one kill in the third set.
Tennessee won the set, 25-20.
In the final frame, Tennessee again hit a solid .295 en route to another 25-20 set win. South Carolina kept the fourth set close as the score was tied six times and the lead changed hands twice.
Felts' deadeye continued as she scored five kills in the fourth set. The Knoxville native hit an impressive .364 in the fourth and racked up 10 of her 19 digs in the final set.
Bell, Mahaffey and Brooks all chipped in with three kills apiece.
Tennessee and South Carolina get right back to work Saturday at 5 p.m. ET at Thompson-Boling Arena. Saturday's match is senior night for Maryville, Tennessee, native Madison Coulter.
Head Coach Eve Rackham Watt
On having a good rhythm in the opening set...
"It looked like it was pretty much everything. It started at the service line. I think they had a hard time handling our service pressure and our blocks showed up pretty big. We weren't giving them anything from the defensive end either. I thought we served them tough, put them in some hard situations and then they just couldn't convert on the offensive end. Then, once it got away from them a little bit, the lead opened up pretty substantially and you don't see many sets like that in volleyball."
On keeping them focused for tomorrow's match...
"We say the same thing after every match. The kids have until midnight to either enjoy it or get over it and the next day is a new day and the next match becomes the most important match. We really try to stay consistent with that message, so we give them a few hours until midnight to enjoy it and then we move on and look ahead to tomorrow's match."
Outside Hitter Lily Felts
On the team's mentality going into the match...
"We trained really hard all week. We came out knowing what they wanted to do and we scouted them a lot. We came out with a really good game plan and that allowed us to execute at a high level. I think they weren't expecting us to come out that ready. All week we've been training for them, scouting them and watching film. I think we came out with a really good game plan."
On the team's defense against one of the nation's better offensive teams...
"Rocky and Ava each did awesome. Having two middles that can block really well is always a plus. It's also way easier to play backcourt defense behind them. If you know that you have a solid block in front of you, you know that you're either going to get a really high touch that you're able to dig or they're going to funnel the ball right to you. If they can keep performing at a high level with their block, then it makes it 10 times easier for us to play defense."