Thanks to a 3-1 defeat of the undefeated Florida Gators (25-20, 25-22, 23-25, 25-16), the No. 8 Kentucky volleyball team has knocked off the No. 1 team in the country for the first time in school history. It’s the third-consecutive time that the Wildcats have defeated the Gators on their home court down in Gainesville. This was just the 3rd top-10 matchup in SEC volleyball history.
As has been Kentucky’s bread and butter all year, it was their offensive production that gave them the win. Freshman Madison Lilley was an all-star once again, dishing out 52 assists to help the Wildcats hit .309 against a team who currently sits at sixth in the country in limiting opponent hitting percentage. To go along with those assists, Lilley also contributed 10 digs, two blocks and a service ace.
UK’s outside hitters found themselves on the receiving end of most of Lilley’s passes, as Leah Edmond, Darian Mack and Avery Skinner accounted for 41 of the Cats’ 64 kills as a team. Edmond had 18, Mack had 13 and Skinner had 10.
“You don’t get this opportunity often,” said Mack. “We pounced on it and had fun with it. It starts with practice. We were all working together.”
As head coach Craig Skinner predicted earlier in the week, it was a battle at the net for both squads, as each team features a duo of middle blockers that are among the best in the conference. Seniors Kaz Brown and Emily Franklin had yet another fantastic offensive performance, as Brown hammered down 11 kills and Franklin added eight while hitting .571. Brown also contributed four of the Wildcats’ six blocks in the match.
Defensively, UK stifled the Gators, limiting them to a .200 attacking clip for the match. The Wildcats had their best defensive set of the game in the second stanza, limiting Florida to a hitting percentage of .000 thanks to four team blocks. On the match, senior libero Ashley Dusek scooped up 16 digs while Edmond added nine and freshman Gabby Curry tallied seven.
It was UK’s ability to serve the ball, however, that proved to be the key to the victory. On paper, Kentucky only received two aces on the afternoon. However, what won’t be found in the box score is how often Kentucky served Florida out of system. It was because of that tough serving that the UK defense was able to successfully read where the Gators were going to attack from and get into position to prevent them from scoring.
With the win, the Wildcats have taken a seat in the top spot of the SEC, and are sure to move to their highest ranking in school history when the polls come out on Monday. Currently, UK’s highest ranking in the Top 25 came in 2009 when the Cats were ranked No. 7 in the country.
“I give a lot of credit to our seniors for leading the charge with their confidence,” said coach Skinner. “Darian Mack was big time Mack today. This team continues to impress us as a staff with how much they want something else, something beyond what they’ve done before.”
Kentucky now moves to 16-2 on the season and 7-0 in the SEC after picking up their 11th-straight victory. Florida falls to 14-1 and 6-1 in the SEC. The Cats will be back in action on October 22 when they take on the Tennessee Volunteers at Memorial Coliseum. First serve is set for 1:30 pm.