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Underclassmen Shine in 3-2 Victory over BYU

The University of Kentucky women's volleyball team celebrates the victory over BYU during the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament against BYU on Friday, December 8, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the game 3-2.

For the fifth time this season and second consecutive match, the University of Kentucky volleyball team upended an opponent in five sets. After being down 2-1, the four-seeded Wildcats stormed back to take the match over BYU 3-2 (20-25, 25-17, 22-25, 25-18, 15-9), advancing to its First Regional Final in school history.

The match proved to be a back-and-forth affair, as each team traded sets through the first four games. The Cougars took the first and third sets, and Kentucky responded by grabbing the second and fourth. After falling behind early in the fifth 5-1, head coach Craig Skinner called a timeout to try and stop the bleeding. The Cats certainly responded out of the break, utilizing a 14-4 spurt to take the match from the Cougars.

“For us to get through that match, I have to credit two groups of people for toughness,” Craig Skinner said. “One, obviously, is our team for battling back the way that they did in a couple different situations, being down 2-1 and then going on a 13-3 or 14-4 run in the fifth. And then our fans for being tough enough to get here at noon, parking, figuring out a way to get here and support us and be behind us the entire time.”

While it was the seniors who guided Kentucky in the win over WKU, it was the underclassmen who stepped up big in Friday’s match, headlined by sophomore outside hitter Leah Edmond.

In the fifth set, Edmond proved to be the difference maker, hammering home five of her team-high 21 kills and providing the offensive spark needed to lead UK to a victory. She also added 13 digs and a service ace in the winning effort.

“I’d have to give credit to my team definitely for that,” Edmond said. “They have confidence in me and them having that confidence in me makes me want to play better and also they’re just like really, really good at telling me where the block is. Kudos to Madison (Lilley) for her sets. She doesn’t get enough credit for how good her sets really are.”

Freshman Avery Skinner built upon her other dazzling offensive performances throughout the tournament, setting a new career-high in kills with 20. Skinner hit an impressive .279 and added four blocks on the match.

Freshman setter Madison Lilley dished out 63 assists in the game, the third time she’s reached that mark this season, and directed the UK offense to 75 kills and a .317 hitting percentage. Lilley also added 12 digs and a career-high seven blocks.

“In this time of year you have to have more than one or two options,” Craig Skinner said of the UK offense. “Even in this match you saw some people hot and you saw some then get cold or they started cold and got hot.”

Defensively, the Wildcats held BYU to a .213 attacking clip and out-dug them 72-61. The Cougars came into the match the eleventh-best blocking team in the country according to NCAA.com, blocking an average of 2.92 balls per set. Friday, however, BYU managed just 10 blocks compared to UK’s 16.5. Senior middle blocker Kaz Brown led Kentucky with nine blocks, while Emily Franklin and Lilley chipped in seven a piece. Brown also added eight kills in the match, surpassing the 1,000-kill mark for her career.

On the back line, the Cats’ role players shined as freshman defensive specialist Gabby Curry and junior McKenzie Watson racked up 12 digs each. Senior libero Ashley Dusek added 13 of her own along with eight assists and a pair of aces.

Junior Brooke Morgan finished the match just one kill shy of her career-high, hammering down 12 kills on a blistering .529 hitting clip. Merideth Jewell also provided the Cats with some big minutes, digging up four balls and giving Edmond a break from the back row.

With the win, Kentucky improves to 29-3 on the year, and BYU falls to 30-3. The victory also gives the 2017 senior class its 100th career victory. The Wildcats will take on Nebraska Saturday at 4 pm for a trip to the Final Four in Kansas City.

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