Following a heartbreaking five-set loss against No. 7 Florida on Friday, all eyes were on the No. 3 Kentucky women’s volleyball team heading into Saturday’s series finale against the Gators. After all, the Cats hadn’t only not dropped a match to that point, but they had only lost a total of four sets for the entirety of the 2020-21 season. But losing twice in one weekend certainly wasn’t in Kentucky’s plans, as the Cats stifled Florida in the series finale, sweeping the Gators (25-20, 25-18, 25-21) for their 17th win of the season.
As great as the Cats were offensively on Friday, this match was all about the defensive side of the court, as Kentucky held the Gators to a hitting clip of just .131 on the day. Heading into the weekend, Florida led the Southeastern Conference in blocks per set, registering 2.74 rejections per frame. But it was the Cats who came out on top in that category this weekend, as Kentucky out-blocked Florida 8.0-7.0 on Friday and 7.0-6.0 on Saturday. That stout block forced the Gators into 21 attack errors, as star hitters T’ara Ceasar and Thayer Hall for Florida hit only -.111 and .000 respectively.
Freshman Madi Skinner proved to be Florida’s kryptonite all day long, as the right-side hitter tallied a match-high five rejections to lead the Cats on the defensive end. Redshirt freshman Bella Bell continued her strong play of late, adding four blocks to the winning effort and sophomore Azhani Tealer had three.
In Friday’s match, junior Alli Stumler struggled against the Gators’ size, hitting just .095 with ten attack errors. On Saturday, she completely flipped the script, tallying 13 kills on .324 hitting with just two errors. Madi Skinner was the other Wildcat to eclipse double figures, slamming down a career-high 13 kills on .478 hitting. Avery Skinner added seven terminations to the winning effort, Tealer had six and Madison Lilley and Bell each had three.
The Cats were extremely balanced on the back line, headlined by 12 digs from senior libero Gabby Curry. Stumler had eight scoops of her own, Avery Skinner had seven, Lilley had six and junior Lauren Tharp added five.
The match actually played out much like the first of the series, with the Cats grabbing tightly contest victories in the first and third sets. The difference, however, proved to be Kentucky’s ability to capitalize on a late second-set lead to take the second frame. In Friday’s contest, the Cats found themselves ahead 18-13 before the Gators stormed back to take a 27-25 set two victory. That mistake would haunt Kentucky later, as Florida easily took set four before stealing a close set five victory to take the match.
But they wouldn’t make that mistake twice. Boasting an 18-12 lead in the second frame of Saturday’s match, the Cats put their foot on the gas, forcing the Gators into four attack errors en route to the 25-18 set two victory.
With the win, Kentucky improves to 17-1 on the season and remains two matches ahead of the Gators for first place in the league. Florida falls to 17-3 with both teams having only one more scheduled series of the regular season. Earlier this season, Kentucky missed a pair of series against Texas A&M and South Carolina. The SEC is still determining whether or not the two series will be made up. The Wildcats will close the regular season this week with a home series against Alabama beginning on Wednesday. First serve is set for 7:00 pm and will air on the SEC Network.