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Nov. 21, 2003

Tennessee outlasted Georgia 3-2 (25-30, 30-20, 30-16, 29-31, 16-17) in the teams’ first-round match of the 2003 SEC Volleyball Tournament on Friday.

In a match defined primarily by defenses, Tennessee had five players contribute double-digit digs. Amy Morris led the group with 26 and posted a double-double with 21 kills, Julie Knytych and Whitney Gifford were just behind Morris in digs at 20 each. Freshman middle blocker Sarah Blum tallied a team-high eight blocks, and Michelle Piantadosi topped the squad with 23 kills.

The teams stayed within three points or less for most of the first half of game one. Georgia began to pull away with two kills from outside hitter Julia Petruschke and a pivotal ace from Alexandra Oquendo, which put the Bulldogs in front by five at 15-10. But Tennessee came back to tie it up at 19-19. Oquendo racked up two more kills and with outstanding block efforts by Luresa Forsythe and Rashinda Reed, Georgia ran away with the game, 30-25.

The momentum shifted in favor of the Lady Vols in game two, as they pulled out to an early 7-3 lead that would not be surrendered. Despite another strong kill performance from Oquendo, the error-fraught Bulldogs couldn’t come from behind and a last-half emergence from outside hitter Michelle Piantadosi was more than Georgia could overcome. Tennessee stretched its lead to ten and took the game, 30-20.

Again in game three, the Lady Vols were determined to command an early lead. Forcing even more Bulldog mistakes, Tennessee stretched its lead to 26-16 before outside hitter Whitney Gifford buried an uncontested kill, and the last offensive point the team would need. Consistency prevailed and with two more Georgia errors, the Lady Vols went up, two games to one.

Both teams came out aggressively in game four, as Georgia’s Oquendo and Petruschke formed a powerful duo at the net. The Bulldogs denied Tennessee two match points to tie up the game at 29-29, then watched as an opponent’s pass went long. Oquendo came through with a serve that could not be returned, and Georgia forced the tiebreaking game.

Piantadosi’s hitting arm helped the Lady Vols early in game five, and the team eventually climbed to 10-9. A stellar block by Blum and Gifford led Tennessee to 14-12, but the Bulldogs roared back with a kill by outside hitter Megan Welch and a strong blocking effort to tie the breaker at 14-14. A pass error by Georgia and one final kill from Morris led the Lady Vols into the semifinals of the tournament.