After facing a 2-1 deficit in front of 2,986 rowdy fans inside Memorial Coliseum, the No. 15 Kentucky volleyball team could have easily folded and dropped a tough match to No. 12 Florida. But thanks to junior Madison Lilley’s ability to distribute the ball effectively, the Wildcats pulled out a gritty five-set victory over the Gators.
“I thought she (Lilley) took over the match in the fourth and fifth sets,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “We sneaked a couple into Kendyl Paris at the right times and we really had to change our patterns… Those little wrinkles help and she did a good job of using the right play at the right time.”
Kentucky came out of the gate on fire, jumping out to a dominant 6-1 lead thanks to five early kills from Leah Edmond and a respectable early blocking performance from the front line. Florida tried to call a timeout to stop the bleeding, but the damage was already done, as the Cats cruised to a 25-12 set one win.
Florida didn’t go away quietly, though, as the Gators registered six blocks in set two and four in set three to take the sets 25-19 and 25-22, respectively. However, it was the late run the Wildcats went on late in the third that proved to be the sparkplug Kentucky needed to get over the hump.
Led by Gabby Curry’s match-high 22 digs and constant push to get her team to “keep fighting”, the Cats went on to take the next two sets 25-19 and 15-8.
“When you’re down and you probably know you’re not gonna win the set all you need to do is fight for the next set,” Curry said. “So we talk a lot about just fight, try to change the momentum now so that when they go into the fourth set they’re like ‘Oh gosh, what’s coming at us?’ That’s important.”
It wasn’t just Curry who put on a defensive show, however, as sophomore Alli Stumler continued her recent hot streak by recording 14 digs. Leah Edmond added 12, Lilley had 11 and Lauren Tharp registered seven.
Kentucky came into Sunday’s match leading the conference in opponent hitting percentage and held firm to that pattern, limiting the Gators to a .130 hitting clip and forcing them into 30 attack errors. Prior to the match, Florida was second in the conference in hitting percentage and 6th in the entire country, hitting .289 per match on average.
Leah Meyer was a force to be reckoned with at the net, leading all Wildcats with seven blocks. Lilley, Edmond and Caitlyn Cooper each added three and Kendyl Paris added two to round out Kentucky’s ten team blocks.
Offensively, Edmond was once again Kentucky’s go-to option, registering a match-high 19 kills and recording her second-straight double-double. Stumler added 15 kills and Meyer had 11. Thanks to her 49 assists, Lilley directed the offense to the tune of 63 terminations and a .237 hitting percentage against the best blocking team in the SEC.
“We realized that they’re big so we can use their hands some more,” Edmond said of the Florida block. “Also, coach (Skinner) just reminded us that ‘Your “good” is good enough.’ All of us are good enough to hit over the block and make a difference.”
With the victory, Kentucky improves to 11-4 (4-0 SEC) on the year and 5-2 against ranked opponents this season. The Cats will be back in action on Friday when the Georgia Bulldogs head to Memorial Coliseum. First serve is set for 7:00 pm.