Toughness and Resolve Lead Cats to a 3-2 Victory over WKU

Kentucky Wildcats 79, Harvard Crimsons 70
December 2, 2017
Cats Bounce Back with 82-54 Win Over Tennessee Tech
December 3, 2017
Show all

Toughness and Resolve Lead Cats to a 3-2 Victory over WKU

The University of Kentucky women's volleyball team celebrates its victory during the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament against WKU on Saturday, December 2, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the game 3-2.

Grit. Toughness. Tenacity. Those are just some of the words that head coach Craig Skinner has used to describe his team this season. And the Wildcats embodied all of that during their 3-2 victory (16-25, 22-25, 25-19, 25-21, 15-12) over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Friday night. After falling behind 0-2, the No. 4-seeded Kentucky Wildcats stormed back to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012.

The Hilltoppers came out of the gate on fire, blitzing the Cats and taking the first set 25-16 behind 18 kills and a .395 hitting percentage. Of those 18 kills, senior outside hitter Alyssa Cavanaugh contributed eight of her eventual 23, providing WKU with the offensive spark it needed to put the pressure on early.

Things tightened up in the second set, but after the Wildcats took a 20-17 lead, WKU took eight of the next ten points to win the set 25-22. Heading into the intermission, the Wildcats found themselves in an 0-2 deficit with their season on the line.

After the break, the set remained tight until freshman Avery Skinner provided an offensive kick that sparked the Kentucky offense. The outside hitter registered three kills in a row to put the Cats up 19-16, giving them the cushion they needed to take the set.

The fourth set was much like the third, as the Cats were able to scrape out a 25-21 victory behind a .440 hitting clip and 14 kills as a team.

In the fifth set, the Wildcats raced out to an early 4-0 lead, and kept that lead until WKU was forced to call a timeout trailing 8-11. However, after the break, the Hilltoppers managed to tie the match once again, and coach Skinner was forced to call another timeout. WKU wouldn’t score again, though, and UK took the set 15-12 and the match 3-2.

Offensively, sophomore Leah Edmond was a star, registering 22 kills on a .246 hitting percentage. Edmond also added eight digs and a service ace in the winning effort. Avery Skinner reached 14 kills for the second-consecutive night, and senior Kaz Brown added 14 of her own while hitting a blistering .722. Brown also recorded nine blocks and Edmond added four.

Freshman setter Madison Lilley had another breakout performance, dishing out a match-high 55 assists with 12 digs and four aces. The SEC Freshman of the Year directed the Kentucky offense to 64 kills on a .313 hitting percentage.

The turning point of the game, however, proved to be the Kentucky defense.

“I think we’re a team that responds to defensive plays, so anytime we get a big block or a one-handed save or anything like that, defense is what gets this team going,” Brown said. “I think once we shut down their hitters a little bit with our blocking defense, that’s what kind of changed the momentum and had things going our way.”

After recording just two digs in the first two sets combined, senior libero Ashley Dusek ended the night with a match-high 16 digs, leading a UK defense that made some astounding plays to keep the ball alive. Freshman Gabby Curry was a big part of that, grabbing nine scoops, with junior McKenzie Watson recording seven of her own. Outside hitter Merideth Jewell also provided a defensive jolt off the bench, digging up three balls at critical moments in the game. Junior Brooke Morgan also pitched in on both the offensive and defensive side of the court, picking up a pair of blocks and five kills.

“I’m not afraid at all to put them in in situations. This match called for Merideth (Jewell) and Brooke (Morgan),” coach Skinner said. “We get to see it every day in practice, so when you make the sub, you have no doubts that they can make an impact, and they did.”

Ultimately, though, it was the Wildcats’ resolve that proved to be the key to victory. In all of his years of coaching at Kentucky, Coach Skinner was more impressed tonight with his team than he has been since he came to Lexington.

“It’s probably the toughest I’ve ever seen a Kentucky volleyball team play since I’ve been here. For the last hour and a half to will ourselves back in and fight for the win. Just really proud of these three and the whole team, all seventeen of us, for finding a way to get it done.”

With the win, UK improves to 28-3 on the year, as WKU falls to 31-4. The victory sets up a matchup with BYU next Friday for a spot in the Elite Eight. The time of of first serve is to be decided.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: