Amy Morris named SEC Tournament MVP; Julie Knytych also named to all-tourney team

The 12th-ranked University of Tennessee volleyball team won the SEC Tournament with an 18-30, 30-27, 30-27, 17-30, 15-5 victory over No. 10 Florida on Sunday afternoon. With the win, the Lady Vols automatically qualified for their first NCAA Tournament since 2000 and third since 1984.Tennessee won its first SEC Tournament since topping Kentucky at home on Nov.18, 1984, by a 10-15, 15-5, 15-6, 15-13 score. The Lady Vols also won the 1982and 1981 tourney titles.
After Florida had won 145 consecutive SEC regular-season matches, 121 straight overall (including SEC Tournaments) and 109 at home, Tennessee topped the Gators twice in Gainesville, Fla., in an eight-day span. Last Sunday, theBig Orange defeated then-No. 7 Florida, 30-21, 23-30, 25-30, 31-29, 15-12. The Lady Vols have doubled their win total against top-10 teams in the past eight days alone. Prior to last Sunday, UT had defeated then-No. 9 Arizona State, 2-15, 15-1, 15-10, 15-9, on Sept. 17, 1983, and then-No. 7 Arizona, 15-11, 1-15, 15-13, on Nov. 5, 1982.
“This was a great accomplishment for our team, to beat Florida twice in a week,” Head Coach Rob Patrick said. “I have such respect for (Florida Head Coach) Mary Wise and knew she would be prepared for us. I couldn’t be prouder of these young ladies. They have put their heart and soul into every practice, conditioning and strength workout.
“I’m really glad that Amy Morris is getting the recognition for her play. Usually the players who get recognized have great offensive statistics. She makes our team better by taking a lot of pressure off our younger players and allowing them to just concentrate on what their role is. Her consistent serve reception and great defensive effort really was a catalyst for our success today.”
In the first game, Florida used a 13-2 run in the middle of the game to keep the Lady Vols at bay, turning an 8-7 Big Orange advantage into a 20-10 Gator lead. Florida won the game, 30-18. Sophomore middle blocker Sarah Blum hit 1.000 in the game for Tennessee (3-0-3).
The second game was extremely tight early on as neither team had greater than a two-point lead until UT took a 15-12 advantage.
The Lady Vols would not let the lead escape them, but could not extend it to more than three points either, prevailing by a 30-27 count. Senior outside hitter Michelle Piantadosi hit .429 in the game (6-0-14.)
Tennessee took the lead in the third game by winning the first two rallies and only relinquished it once when Florida tied it at 25, before the Lady Vols put the Gators away with four straight points, capped off by a sprawling dig by junior setter Julie Knytych which she sent the ball just over the net and down between a group of Gators. UT won the game, 30-27.
Florida had the lead the majority of game four and pulled away from the Lady Vols with a 9-1 run for a 21-12 advantage. A later 6-1 run gave UF a 28-16 advantage on its way to the 30-17 win. Junior outside hitter Amy Morris tallied eight digs in the game.
The Lady Vols came out strong in game five, scoring the first four points and not letting Florida to muster any sort of run, defeating the Gators, 15-5.
Tennessee now moves its record this season when losing the first game to 8-1. For the match, Morris had 16 kills and 21 digs, her 16th double-double of the season, and earned SEC Tournament honors.
“It’s great to get recognition from the country,” Morris said of defeating Florida twice in a week.
“People thought it was a fluke the first time and that we were lucky. They didn’t think we could come into the swamp and win again.
“Once things got down to the wire, in the 27s and 28s, everyone stayed calm. We stayed with our motto all year, which is to stay calm and get ready for the next pass.”
Also named to the all-tournament team was Knytych, who had 52 assists and 16 digs today.Piantadosi contributed 13 kills, while Blum had 11 and junior middle blocker Kristen Andre tallied 10 putaways to go with 10 blocks. Other dig leaders for the Lady Vols included sophomore libero Cynthia Buggs with 22 and freshman outside hitter Yuliya Stoyanova, who tallied 15.
The Lady Vols next play at 4:30 p.m. on Friday versus Pittsburgh in Louisville, Kentucky. The NCAA Selection Show is at 6:45 p.m. next Sunday and can be viewed on ESPNews.
The First and Second Rounds will take place on consecutive days December 2-5. Tennessee has put in a bid to host the First and Second Rounds and will find out at the Selection Show whether it will be a host or need to travel.

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