COLUMBIA, S.C. – Behind an impressive offensive performance from senior Lauren O’Conner the 14th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team earned a 3-1 (25-14, 21-25, 25-17, 25-21) win on the road at South Carolina Sunday afternoon. The Taylor Mill, Ky., native logged a career-high 22 kills and a career-best .667 attacking percentage to fuel the Wildcats’ offense.
With the victory, Kentucky improves to 12-2 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference action. The Gamecocks drop to 11-3 overall and 1-1 within league play. Kentucky returns to action on Friday, Oct. 3. UK will have its SEC season opener vs. Alabama at 7 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum.
“For the most part we were inconsistent,” UK coach Craig Skinner said. “In sets one and three we played awfully well. In set four, we had Lauren carry us and she did a great job. She knew she was going to get the ball, and so did South Carolina, but she was able to come through for us. We had to weather some storms, but credit South Carolina for continuing to be aggressive.”
Junior Shelby Workman notched 14 kills and added seven digs for UK, while junior Sara Schwarzwalder reached double-figures in the kills’ column with 10 hammers. Sophomore Anni Thomasson added eight, while leading the team with 11 digs. Junior setter Morgan Bergren dished out 51 assists and added six digs and a pair of blocks. Freshmen Kaz Brown and Emily Franklin had three and two kills, respectively.
South Carolina opened the scoring in the first set by taking the match’s first two points. O’Conner’s kill off the block marked the first tally of the day for UK. A solo rejection from the hands of Schwarzwalder tied the score at five apiece. O’Conner’s heady play, striking a ball off a diving dig from Napper, gave UK its first lead at 6-5. Kentucky continued to stretch its lead thanks to a 7-1 spurt, and South Carolina called the first timeout of the frame trailing 10-6. The lead reached six at 13-7 following a Workman kill. It was all the more breathing room the Wildcats would need en route to a 25-14 opening set victory and a 1-0 lead in the match.
UK totaled 18 kills on a .405 hitting percentage. Workman and O’Conner both accounted for six kills with O’Conner utilizing an. 857 attacking clip. UK also picked up 17 digs with four players posting three or more to limit the Gamecocks to eight kills on .129 hitting.
Kentucky raced out to a 5-1 lead to begin the third set. UK was sparked by a kill from Brown and then the freshman teamed up with Bergren for a Big Blue block. A Schwarzwalder kill stretched the lead for Kentucky to six at 12-6, and South Carolina opted to use its final timeout of the frame. UK would not let South Carolina get any closer than five points as the Wildcats capitalized on the quick start for a 25-17 third set win to go ahead 2-1 in the match.
UK logged 16 kills on a blistering .483 hitting percentage with Schwarzwalder recording a team-best five hammers. South Carolina was limited to 11 kills on a .172 attacking percentage as the visitors accounted for a pair of blocks and flustered the Gamecocks into six hitting errors.
The lead changed hands back-and-forth to open the fourth frame. South Carolina was able to earn a two-point edge at 7-5. Fueled by O’Conner, the Wildcats pulled back to within one at 16-15. South Carolina scored the next two points to recapture a comfortable margin at 18-15. An ace from Thomasson gave UK a 20-19 advantage. From there, the teams would engage in another back-and-forth battle until O’Conner laced her 20th kill of the match and then the Wildcats forced the Gamecocks into a hitting error to earn a 23-21 advantage. Following a USC timeout, O’Conner came up with the final two kills of the match for a 25-21 UK win.
UK logged 16 kills on a .281 attacking percentage in the fourth frame with O’Conner going for nine hammers to lead the way. South Carolina was limited to 13 kills on .250 hitting.
The second set began with the teams exchanging points until the home team shook loose for two-straight points to earn a 7-5 lead. South Carolina stretched the advantage to four at 10-6. Consecutive aces from Napper brought UK to within one at 16-15. UK came to within one again at 19-18 following a Workman kill, but the Gamecocks scored the next three points to recapture a four-point edge at 21-17. That run was enough to hold off the Cats as the home team earned a 25-21 second set win to even the match at 1-1.
South Carolina had 13 kills on .417 hitting, and benefited from seven errors from the Cats. Workman had five kills in the frame to lead the way for the Wildcats.
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