For a team that’s struggled at times with blocking this season, the No. 19 Kentucky volleyball team certainly held its own against a Missouri team that ranked fourth in the nation in blocks per set coming into Sunday’s matchup with the Cats. However, thanks to 15 team blocks, the Wildcats sent the Tigers home in four sets (21-25, 25-14, 25-17, 29-27) to improve to 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
Sophomore middle blocker Kendyl Paris led Kentucky at the net, recording a career-high 10 blocks. Caitlyn Cooper contributed six blocks of her own, while Leah Edmond, Brooke Morgan and Alli Stumler each added three as well.
Madison Lilley tallied her fifth double-double of the season, thanks to an impressive defensive effort in the back row. Last week’s SEC Co-Setter of the Week led the team with 16 digs while dishing out 45 assists. Sophomore Gabby Curry added 13 scoops, Stumler grabbed 10 and freshman Lauren Tharp recorded nine in her first career start as a Wildcat.
As a team, Kentucky served a historic number of aces, sending 11 bullets over the net that had no chance of being sent back over. The eleven aces marked the most in school history for a four-set match in the 25-point rally-scoring era.
While the offense wasn’t as great as it has been at times this year, it was the defensive energy that pleased head coach Craig Skinner the most.
“Just a great defensive effort,” Skinner said. “I thought we were a little up-and-down offensively but defensively – with 15 blocks and 11 service aces – you don’t get many matches like that. We out blocked a top-five-blocking team in the country – really pleased with that effort.”
Edmond paced the Cats with 26 terminations, the fourth time she’s surpassed the 20-kill mark in a match this season and the 19thtime of her career. The outside hitter had just six errors on 59 swings, good for a hitting clip of .339. And while Edmond is certainly a star on this team, she contributes all of her success to the setting ability of Lilley and the rest of her team’s defensive effort.
“I just feel like every time she touches the ball there’s just an increased chance of me getting a kill which is something amazing,” Edmond said. “But it’s not just her, it’s all the people behind me too. Like I know I can go up there and swing as hard as I want to and that there are five other people sitting there waiting to cover to give me another chance to hit the ball again.”
Stumler contributed 12 kills along with her ten digs, good for her third double-double of the year and second in the last three contests. Cooper added eight on a .375 attacking clip, while Morgan recorded seven of her own.
The Cats came out of the gate hot, jumping out to a quick 4-0 lead before Missouri rallied to take a lead at 7-5. Play seesawed until the Tigers managed to jump ahead by two to lead at 23-21 before eventually taking the set 25-21. However, Kentucky never looked back, taking the next three sets to end the game and remain undefeated in the conference.
With the win, the Cats improve to 9-4 overall and 3-0 in the SEC, while Missouri falls to 12-4 on the year and 2-2 in the SEC. Kentucky will be back in action Friday when they travel to Starkville to take on Mississippi State at the Newell-Grissom Building. First serve is set for 8 pm.