Heading into Sunday’s match against the Auburn Tigers, the No. 2 Kentucky volleyball team was down two starters after senior outside hitter Avery Skinner left Saturday’s match early in the first set with an ankle injury. Coupled with the loss of freshman Reagan Rutherford in the contest at Missouri, and the Wildcats were suddenly forced to find offense from somewhere else. And thanks to an impressive showing from its freshmen, the Cats swept Auburn (25-12, 25-19, 25-15) in their last game at Memorial Coliseum this fall.
With Avery Skinner sidelined, much of the offensive load was given to outside hitter Alli Stumler. And after an impressive 18 kills in the first match against the Tigers, the junior impressed once again, tallying another 18 terminations on a .515 hitting clip. Stumler also added twelve digs in the winning effort, good for her fourth double-double of the season.
But it was another balanced offensive attack from Kentucky’s underclassmen that stood out, as Madi Skinner and Sophie Fischer stepped into the holes left from Rutherford and Avery Skinner’s absences. Madi Skinner added eight kills on the evening and Fischer added four. Sophomore Azhani Tealer continued her steady play out of the middle, registering eight kills on fifteen swings with just one error.
Madison Lilley directed the Kentucky offense to the tune of .371 hitting, its third-highest hitting performance of the season. The senior setter dished out a match-high 36 assists to go along with eight digs and three kills.
Kentucky raced out to an early 11-7 lead in the first frame, and utilized a 5-point service run from junior Lauren Tharp to coast to the 25-12 set one victory. The Wildcats recorded 15 team kills and hit .536 in the set, while limiting Auburn to just .105 hitting.
The second set was much more competitive, as the Tigers held a 9-7 lead thanks to some early errors from the Wildcats. Kentucky retook the lead before a quick kill from Auburn pulled them to within two at 11-13. After that, however, Kentucky rattled off a 9-2 run to take control of the second set, winning it 25-19.
After failing to record a single block in the first two frames, the Kentucky defense came alive in the third, as the Wildcats sent back five rejections en route to a 25-15 victory. The block forced the Tigers into their worst hitting performance of the day to that point, as they hit just .071 in the set.
Defensively, The Cats were led by Stumler’s 12 digs along with ten from senior Gabby Curry and ten from freshman Riah Walker. In her first career start as a Wildcat, Walker also added a pair of service aces.
Walker was excited for the opportunity to start Sunday, and cited her teammates confidence in her as a key to her success.
“It was definitely very exciting,” Walker said. “A little nerve-racking but I think that the coaches and teammates have done such a good job, they made it way less stressful.”
With the victory, Kentucky improves to 6-0 on the season and remains atop the Southeastern Conference tied with Florida. The Cats will travel to Mississippi State Thursday and Friday to complete its fall schedule against the Bulldogs before the season resumes on January 22, 2021. First serve Thursday is set for 1:00 pm eastern.