When Tennessee pounced hard for an easy first-set win Thursday night, coach Rob Patrick had an idea what was coming next.
He might have predicted Duke would win the second set and put an edge into the first-round NCAA volleyball tournament match at Thompson-Boling Arena.
That's exactly how it went. But the 14th-seed Lady Vols recovered and notched a 3-1 victory to advance against Ohio State tonight at 7.
The winner goes to the Sweet 16 in Gainesville, Fla.
"This team has a personality,'' said Patrick, "that once they know they're gonna win, they become disinterested. They really do.
"We really played a great first set. Duke didn't play a great set and I knew that. The players thought, 'Gosh, we're so much better than Duke, we're gonna win,'
"So they just started playing volleyball instead of playing against Duke. We had to get back on task.''
One of those who helped do so was junior Leslie Cikra.
Cikra had 12 kills, and a number of them were very timely in the 25-15, 23-25, 25-19, 25-16 decision that improved Tennessee to 28-3.
After its win in the second set, Duke (21-9) continued its momentum to a 7-3 lead in the third set.
Enter the 6-foot-4 Cikra. She blasted four kills in 8-1 Tennessee run that forever turned the momentum back to the Lady Vols.
She was quiet in the fourth and final set, until she came off the bench late to launch the ultimate kill that sent a Duke player vainly chasing a carom into the media table at courtside.
"We have a lot of hitters we can go to,'' said Patrick. "As this match went along, I thought (freshman setter) Mary (Pollmiller) did a great job. I didn't say a lot. I let her kind of play today.
"She did a great job of finding her hot hitter and it just so happened to be Leslie. Leslie is just such a physical player, when she contacts the ball at the height of her jump it's pretty tough to defend, at the net especially.''
Kelsey Robinson led the attack with 19 kills. Freshman Tiffany Baker added 13 and DeeDee Harrison seven.
Up next is Ohio State (19-13), an old nemesis and a 3-1 winner over Middle Tennessee State in the first game Thursday.
The Buckeyes have dominated the series with Tennessee, 7-0, including an NCAA Sweet 16 win in 2004.
But there's no one Cikra would rather play. She's from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and was recruited by coach Geoff Carlston, who was at Ohio University before he got the Ohio State job.
"I've been waiting to do this since I got here, said Cikra, who ranks third on the team in kills behind Robinson and Harrison.
"I'm really excited. This is the match I've been waiting for.''
Patrick was glad to get his freshman-dominated team through their first NCAA experience and gave an assist to the crowd of 1,552.
"The crowd really helped push us through some rough spots,'' Patrick said. "Sometimes when you have a young team, you need a little bit of that.
"We did a good job of sticking to the game plan. Duke played just a fantastic defensive game. And it could have gotten hairy out there if we'd gotten a little shortsighted or little antsy to get the kill earlier in the rally and we didn't do that.''