Prior to Thursday’s match, the last time the No. 2 Kentucky women’s volleyball team had seen game action was in a sweep over Alabama on March 25 in which they clenched the Southeastern Conference title for the fourth-consecutive year. And after receiving the No. 2 overall seed in the 2020 NCAA Volleyball Tournament and a bye immediately placing them in the Second Round, the Cats were itching to see the court again and begin their tournament run. But despite the three-week layover, Kentucky came out of the gate strong, sweeping UNLV in straight sets (25-16, 25-19, 25-18) to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth-consecutive year.
After being named the AVCA All-Southeast Region Player of the Year on Tuesday, Madison Lilley poured in yet another masterful performance for the Cats. The senior from Overland Park, Kansas tallied a match-high 44 assists and paced the Kentucky offense to 50 kills and a .468 hitting clip. Lilley also added 5 digs and a pair of service aces to the winning effort as well.
“It seems like it’s been forever (since Kentucky’s last match) but also we’ve been training for this since August, so it’s been a long time coming,” Lilley said. “So we’re just really excited to be here, excited to get the ball rolling. Just working on adapting as well as we can. That’s the name of the game right now.”
Sisters Madi and Avery Skinner were on the receiving end of many of those assists all night long, each registering 11 terminations. Alli Stumler was the other Wildcat to eclipse double figures, recording 10 kills on just 17 swings. Azhani Tealer had nine kills out of the middle and freshman Elise Goetzinger added eight in her NCAA Tournament debut.
Kentucky’s balance proved to be too much for the Rebels to overcome, as no one on Kentucky’s roster attempted more than 21 swings in the match. And outside of Mariena Hayden’s 19 kills, no one for UNLV recorded more than four terminations.
“You’ve got to rely on putting the ball away, killing the ball and we did that tonight,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “And if that’s not going on Sunday, we’ve got to do something defensively. So there’s got to be a good balance in how you score.”
Defensively, Kentucky was paced by three-time SEC Libero of the Year Gabby Curry, who tallied 10 digs to lead all players in the match. Stumler added eight of her own and Avery Skinner and Lauren Tharp each had four. At the net, Madi Skinner and Tealer led the charge, each registering four blocks on the evening.
With the victory, Kentucky improves to 20-1 and advances to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth-consecutive time. They’ll face the winner of the Washington State/WKU match on Sunday. Time of first serve is TBD and will be announced by the NCAA at the completion of the final matches in the round of 32.