The Ole Miss volleyball team played two matches at home this weekend, losing to No. 25 Tennessee on Friday night and No. 12 Kentucky on Sunday.
The Rebels had built momentum recently, winning two of their last three matches before dropping two this weekend. Now with a 13-14 record on the season, and 3-10 in conference play, it looks like Ole Miss will finish in the bottom third of the conference for the second time in three years.
In the first game of the weekend against Tennessee on Friday, Ole Miss jumped out to an early lead, taking control of the first set right away and dominating the entire way. The Rebels led 13-7 early in the set, and kept the Volunteers at bay for the entire set, refusing to give up any ground.
The set was characterized by the Rebels’ great defense, as defensive specialists Nicole Purcell and Caroline Adams, as well as junior outside hitter Emily Stroup, had impressive effort on the back line to refuse the Tennessee offense at nearly every opportunity. The Rebels also came up with two blocks in the set, one by freshman Aubrey Sultemeier and sophomore Lauren Bars, and another solo block by Bars.
The Rebels struggled the rest of the way however, as the talented Tennessee team appeared to find its groove in the second set. While the score was close for most of the set, it felt like Tennessee controlled the action the entire way, and the Vols’ seven errors in the set were the only thing that kept the Rebels alive.
The third set was the most competitive of the day, as the Rebels looked as if they were poised to reclaim the lead before allowing a 4-0 Tennessee run to end the set, putting them in a 1-2 hole. Critical attack errors from Sultemeier and senior Caitlin Wernentin handed the set to the Volunteers after four straight kills from Stroup signalled a Rebel comeback.
The fourth set was similar to the third, but the Rebels refused to lie down, fighting until the very end in another hotly contested set. This set was also plagued with errors, including four in a row by Tennessee which helped give Ole Miss a 21-18 advantage. However, the Vols reclaimed the lead with a 4-0 run, and would not relinquish it for the rest of the set, finishing off the Rebels 25-23 on an attack error from Stroup.
Stroup had a remarkable performance in the loss, recording a program record 31 kills on a .393 hitting percentage to go along with seven digs, one assist, one block and an ace. Wernentin recorded her third straight double-double with 10 kills and 17 digs. Bars contributed 47 assists, four kills and 15 digs. Adams had a match high of 19 digs to go along with her four assists, and Sultemeier recorded seven total blocks to go along with seven kills.
Stroup recorded her 1000th career kill on Friday, continuing her historic performance this season. Entering the weekend she was third in the country in kills, fourth in total points and 12th in kills per set, also leading the SEC in all three categories.
On Sunday the Rebels were outplayed by a superior Kentucky team, falling in straight sets in a fairly unremarkable fashion. All three sets were close most of the way, with the Rebels faltering late and allowing demoralizing runs to end each set. After a back-and-forth start to the first set, the Rebels looked to be in striking position down 18-19. However, a 6-1 run by the Wildcats ended the set 25-19.
In the second set the Rebels looked defeated before going on a 3-0 run of their own to tie it at 21-21, forcing a Kentucky timeout. With perhaps their best chance of the day, the Rebels came out of the break poorly, and allowed three errors in the final four points to cede the set 21-25.
The third set was not as close, as the Wildcats’ errors kept Ole Miss in the match and forced a 17-17 tie before Kentucky showed why they are the best team in the SEC, recording kills on seven of their last eight points while committing just one error.
Stroup continued to break records on Sunday however, registering her 475th kill of the season in the first set, breaking the program record she set just a year ago. She went on to finish with 12 kills on a lowly .075 clip.
The Rebels will try to overcome these losses when they travel to Baton Rouge on Wednesday to take on LSU.