The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship - First Round

Lady Vols use block party to move past UNC in NCAAs

207 days ago
Tennessee Athletics
Photo: tennessee athletics

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Earning its 20th win of the season, the Tennessee volleyball team is through to the second round of the NCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament with a win over North Carolina, 25-20, 25-19, 24-26, 25-15.

Tennessee was propelled by its confident blocking, securing 16 over the four sets. Ava Bell spearheaded the defense for the Big Orange, recording nine blocks herself. Natalie Hayward tallied six to her credit.

Hayward and Breana Runnels went for double-doubles in the match. It was the second-straight game Runnels reached the mark. The graduate student posted a team-high 20 kills and added 10 digs for her 11th double-double of the season. Hayward also had 10 digs, and connected for 33 assists in the win.

The defensive success went beyond just at the net as five different Lady Vols had 10+ digs. Paola Laborda, making her first start at libero, led the team with a career-high 18. Lily Felts had 12 and Morgahn Fingall had 11. Hayward and Runnels rounded out the double-digit Vols with 10 apiece.

The Lady Vols found a groove in the first set and held a lead as large as 19-13. North Carolina battled back, bringing it as close as 21-19, but a pair of blocks and an ace from Runnels bolted down a 25-20 set one win. Runnels dominated the offensive end in the first frame, notching six kills on 10 attacks. UT found momentum from three blocks, but the energy reached a peak when a dig from Laborda floated over the heads of all Tar Heels, falling for a kill.

Tennessee kept the momentum rolling, taking the second set 25-19. The Lady Vols took five of the last six points and never surrendered the lead as they took a 2-0 set advantage. The blockers stood tall, rejecting five UNC attacks in the stanza. Hayward had three of them, one solo and two assisted.

Down 19-14 in the third set, Tennessee battled back, tying the game at 20. A battle for the last points resulted in a 26-24 set win for the Tar Heels. North Carolina found its groove on offense, recording 20 kills and only three attack errors. Mabrey Shaffmaster led the Heels with eight kills in the third, Skyy Howard added five.

The fourth set was all Lady Vols. Tennessee shot out to a 10-2 lead before the Heels and Vols traded points. North Carolina pulled it back to 18-15, UT, but Eve Rackham Watt's bunch captured the last seven points to take the match and push the Lady Vols through to the second round. Those final seven points saw Felts and Bell combine for three kills and three blocks - two kills for Felts, one for Bell; two blocks for Bell one for Felts.

TENNESSEE STAT LEADERS

Kills - Breana Runnels (20)

Assists - Natalie Hayward (33)

Digs - Paola Laborda (18)

Blocks - Ava Bell (9)

UP NEXT

Tennessee will be back in action tomorrow in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as they face the winner of Ohio State and Howard. First serve is at 6 p.m. ET at the Covelli Center, the game will be shown on ESPN+.