For the first seven games of the conference season, the No. 15 Kentucky volleyball team utilized a balanced offensive attack and some stifling defense to overpower their opponents with little to no resistance. In fact, of the 24 Southeastern Conference sets the Cats had played heading into Sunday’s match against Texas A&M, Kentucky won an astounding 21 of them. But after beginning a four-game road trip at LSU on Friday, the Aggies were sure to test the Wildcats in College Station. And they did just that, forcing Kentucky to play five in order to clinch a 3-2 victory (19-25, 25-19, 22-25, 25-20, 15-5).
Texas A&M came out laser-focused, and utilized the explosive arm of star junior and reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week Hollann Hans to put the pressure on Kentucky early. Hans hammered down eight kills in the first set alone, and led her team to a 25-19 set one victory.
“I’m really proud of how we grew up during that match,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “We had to learn how to handle adversity very quickly and respond. Our staff did a great job of coaching us through it and this team rallied around each other and continued to fight.”
It took the Cats a while, but the balanced offensive power of Leah Edmond, Caitlyn Cooper, Brooke Morgan, Kendyl Paris and Avery Skinner eventually became too much for the Aggies to handle, as the Wildcats went on to win three of the next four sets to seal the win.
Offensively, Kentucky was led once again by Edmond’s cannon of an arm. The junior registered 23 terminations on a .286 attacking clip. Edmond also contributed a block and seven scoops in the winning effort. Cooper and Morgan were the other Wildcats to reach the double-digit kill total, each acquiring ten kills apiece. Many of those kills were gifts from sophomore Madison Lilley, who had another impressive outing. The setter dished out a match-high 51 assists on 60 team kills and helped the Cats hit on a .232 clip.
It was the defense, however, that kept Kentucky in the match. As a team, the Wildcats picked up 74 digs, led by libero Gabby Curry and Lilley, who each recorded 19 digs. Lauren Tharp added 13, while Alli Stumler added nine and Morgan chipped in with four. Tharp’s 13 digs and Lilley’s 19 were both new career highs.
As a team, Kentucky sent back twelve rejections, led by sophomore middle blocker Kendyl Paris, who registered seven blocks. Cooper added five and Lilley contributed four.
The Cats got a good scare from the Aggies, but it was the poise in the face of adversity that was the most impressive part of today’s victory. In a league that had yet to challenge Kentucky until then, grabbing a win at Reed Arena against a solid A&M team was an impressive feat for a team that’s set to take on Florida in just a week and a half.
After losing five seniors due to graduation last year, four of which saw significant playing time, there were a lot of questions heading into this season for the Wildcats. But the Cats are proving time and time again that they might just have the offensive firepower and defensive energy required to make another deep run in the SEC and NCAA Tournament. There are still a lot of conference games left to be played, many of which will be against solid teams, but today’s win was an important stepping stone to getting Kentucky closer to that SEC title.
With the victory, the Cats improve to 14-4 on the year and 8-0 in the SEC and now sit alone in first place atop the SEC after Florida’s loss to Missouri earlier in the day. Kentucky will travel to Georgia on Friday for a matchup with the Bulldogs for the third game in this four-game road trip. First serve is set for 7 pm.