Heading into Friday’s contest against the No. 3 Kentucky volleyball team, the Ole Miss Rebels had a record of just 1-15, with their lone win coming in a five-set match against LSU. But ironically enough, it was the Rebels who gave the Cats the most trouble of any opponent in a long time, as a late first-set rally propelled the Cats to an eventual 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-11) sweep for their 15th win of the season.
UK head coach Craig Skinner was pleased with his team’s resiliency to start the match and cited a big dig from junior Lauren Tharp as a key reason his team was able to rally to take a close first set.
“Volleyball is such a game of momentum and we didn’t have any momentum-changing plays in the first half of that first set,” Craig Skinner said. “So the challenge was, we need one of three things: we need a stuff block, we need a dig transition to a kill or a first-ball kill when they serve to us. Those things change momentum. And (Lauren) Tharp made a great defensive play on a tip in the middle of that first set and it led to a set to Avery (Skinner) and she crushed it for a kill. That’s like getting two points when you do things like that.”
That dig-to-kill proved to be one of many critical points in the frame, as Ole Miss actually held a 18-16 advantage over the Cats late in the set before Avery Skinner and company rallied to take it 25-21. Despite the Rebels holding the advantage in both kills (13-12) and digs (11-7) over Kentucky, it was the Cats’ .300% hitting clip (compared to just .161% from Ole Miss) that gave them the early lead.
Offensively, Kentucky was paced by the Skinner sisters, as Avery and Madi Skinner were the only Wildcats to eclipse double-digit kills on the evening. Avery Skinner tallied 12 terminations on .458% hitting and Madi Skinner registered 10 kills on a .533 hitting clip. Alli Stumler chipped in nine kills of her own and sophomore middle blocker Azhani Tealer added five.
Madison Lilley continued to distribute the ball efficiently, dishing out a match-high 36 assists and directing the Kentucky offense to a .402 attacking clip. The setter also added a trio of blocks and three service aces, good for the most aces on the team.
It was a balanced night defensively for the Cats, as five Wildcats totaled four or more digs. Lilley led the way with seven, Avery Skinner and Stumler each added six, Tharp had five and libero Gabby Curry tallied four.
At the net, it was redshirt freshman Bella Bell who led the charge, tallying a career-high five blocks in her first career start. Lilley, Tealer and Avery Skinner each added three blocks and Madi Skinner had two.
With the win, Kentucky moves to 15-0 on the year and remains the last unbeaten team in the Southeastern Conference. They’ll be back in action Saturday for a 5:00 pm tip against Ole Miss to wrap up the season series with the Rebels.