CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga volleyball team had its ups and downs in finishing 12-17 overall and 4-8 in the Southern Conference in the 2009 season. The squad is one of the youngest in recent memory and only graduates senior Cassie Conner, so there is a lot to look forward to next season with almost the entire team returning.
With nine newcomers, seven freshman and two transfers, the Lady Mocs started the season strong with a season opening win against East Tennessee State at the Comfort Inn & Suites Invitational in Morehead, Ky. The Aug. 28 win was the first time Chattanooga started the year with a victory since 2001.
After dropping a match to Morehead St., the Lady Mocs responded with an impressive comeback in a thrilling five-set win over James Madison. Chattanooga took the first two sets, but the Dukes battled to tie the match at two-all and grabbed a 13-9 lead in the fifth set. Sophomore Bailey Chastain came to the service line and propelled Chattanooga to a 15-13 victory, converting on six-straight rallies. The victory gave the team a second place finish as junior Courtney Barnes and freshman Heather Parman, who set a season-high with 21 kills against James Madison, were selected to the all-tournament team.
Chattanooga next hosted the Country Inn & Suites Volleyball Challenge at Maclellan Gym. The gym's floor was repainted in the offseason giving the squad a true home-court advantage.
Opening the tournament against in-state foe Austin Peay, the Lady Mocs were unable to solve the Lady Govs falling in straight sets. UTC got back on track the next day with a 3-1 win over SIU-Edwardsville. Barnes set a career-high with 17 kills against the Cougars. The team could not feed off the momentum as later that day they fell to Loyola (Ill.) in three sets. Freshman libero Paula Passmore was honored on the all-tournament team for her defensive effort during the tournament.
Chattanooga traveled to Johnson City, Tenn., for a midweek battle with East Tennessee State for the second time in three weeks. The match ended with the same result as the Lady Mocs defeated the Bucs in four sets improving to 5-3 on the year.
The team was then off to Ruston, La., for the Lady Techster Home Tournament on Sept. 18. Chattanooga won its first two matches against Grambling State and Southeastern, La., setting up a championship match with Louisiana Tech. The Lady Techsters took the first set, but Chattanooga battled back for wins in the second and third taking a 2-1 lead. The squad was unable to close out its opponent in the fourth and found themselves down 13-11 in the fifth, but a service error and three-straight blocks gave Chattanooga the win. It was the first road tournament victory for Chattanooga since 2002 and sophomores Laura Brock, Ellie Kuhn and Barnes were named to the all-tournament team.
With an 8-3 record, Chattanooga had its best start since 1999, when the team started 16-4 after rolling off a 10-match win streak.
To begin the conference slate on Sept. 26, Elon came to town and the Lady Mocs were prepared taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the match. However, the Phoenix took the next two sets, 26-24 and 28-26. In both sets, Chattanooga had opportunities to close out the match, but could not convert. The Lady Mocs took what seemed to be a commanding 14-11 advantage in the fifth set, but the Phoenix scored five-straight points, including two costly Chattanooga errors, to win the match.
In the loss, the team statistically dominated their opponent including setting a league-high 122 digs and seven individual marks.
With a match against UNC Greensboro the following day, the Lady Mocs had no time to think about what happened against Elon and they didn't. Chattanooga defeated the Spartans earning the team's first straight-set victory of the season.
Samford came out firing during a mid-week conference match on Sept. 30 recording a 25-14 win in the first set. The young squad was unable to capitalize on opportunities that they were given including set points in the second and third allowing the Bulldogs to take the match.
The following weekend against Georgia Southern proved that the young team may have pressed a little as the Eagles came out flying and quickly swept the Lady Mocs.
With its first league road trip beginning Oct. 10, Chattanooga knew it had to play a more complete game, but the Lady Mocs started slow and were swept by the Mountaineers. At Western Carolina, the Lady Mocs battled to take a 26-24 win in the first set and rolled to a straight set victory.
Hosting College of Charleston and The Citadel, the Lady Mocs fell to the Cougars, but proved to be too much for the Bulldogs as Chattanooga posted a sweep on Oct. 18.
The young team hit a rough stretch over the next two weeks losing five matches in straight sets. Battling Elon for the second time on Nov. 1, Chattanooga took the first set before losing in four. It was the first time that the squad forced a fourth set in 12 matches recording a 3-9 record going back to the first time the teams met on Sept. 26.
On the final home weekend of the season, the Lady Mocs swept the Catamounts in what was the team's final win of the year. Against Appalachian State, Kuhn recorded three block assists in a row putting her atop of the UTC season block assists record at 101. She finished with 103 block assists and was eighth in total blocks with 117.
With a conference record of 4-12, Chattanooga did not earn a berth into the reformatted Southern Conference Tournament that only took the top two teams in each division. It was the first time since the team joined the conference in 1983 that they did not appear in the tournament.
Freshman Paula Passmore was the lone Lady Moc honored by the Southern Conference earning a place on the all-freshman team. She recorded a 5.41 digs per set average that led the SoCon and was 13th nationally. With 546 digs on the year, Passmore finished 10th on the season digs register.
Not only did Kuhn and Passmore earn spots on the single season charts, but Barnes recorded a .335 attack percentage that is a modern day record as Mary Silsby (1983) holds the overall mark at .488. Barnes tied Furman's Caroline Adams for the number one spot in SoCon hitting percentage and ended seventh with 2.73 kills per set. With three seasons in the books, Barnes is third on the career attack percentage chart at .298 and if she continues her effective hitting, she should move past Carmen Walker (1996-99) at .306 in her senior campaign.
Going into next year, the squad returns its entire roster, minus Conner. UTC will allow for its seven freshmen to get stronger over the offseason and learn how to be more effective hitters through training in the spring. The team's middle blockers, Barnes and Kuhn, should continue to be the strong point of the team opening holes in the opponent's defense for the outside hitters to attack.