Grit. Resolve. Tenacity. Pick your adjective because Kentucky displayed it. The No. 14 Kentucky volleyball team prevailed in a wild five-set affair by a 3-2 (25-23, 29-27, 13-25, 20-25, 15-12) margin over No. 23 Utah in front of 1,642 fans in Memorial Coliseum to improve to 2-0 in the Bluegrass Battle on Friday night.
Kentucky stormed out to an early 2-0 lead, before the Utes captured the next two frames to force the decisive fifth set in an impressive early-season battle between top-25 rated teams.
“You found out a lot about yourself in a match like that,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “Utah is going to win a ton of matches this year. They stuck it to us in games three and four and you must find out what kind of resilience you have when it’s on the line.”
Utah scored the first point of the fifth frame, but UK rebounded immediately with a point of its own. The Cats grabbed their first lead of the set following kills on three straight plays from sophomore Leah Edmond and senior Kaz Brown to make the score 5-3. Utah fought back with consecutive points to tie the score at five, but Edmond rifled her 21st kill of the night to answer.
Utah responded yet again and would take an 8-7 lead into the media break. Out of the timeout, freshman Avery Skinner laced a kill and then teamed up with senior Emily Franklin for a block to give UK a 9-8 edge. Franklin kept the momentum on the home team’s side with a huge solo rejection. Following a Utah timeout, the Utes strung together two straight to knot the score once again – this time at 10 apiece.
Edmond and Franklin combined for the third block of the set to give UK a 12-11 lead. Franklin followed the defensive play with an ace that nipped the net and dropped, forcing the Utes to utilize their final timeout. UK earned match point following a service error by the visitors and closed the match on an Edmond kill to the backrow for a 15-12 fifth set win.
With the win, Kentucky improves to 2-0 on the season. Utah falls to 1-1. The Wildcats are back in action on Saturday with a 7:30 p.m. tilt against Cincinnati.
Edmond’s 22 kills on a .360 attacking clip led the way for the Cats offensively. It marked the sixth time in her young career she has topped the 20-kill plateau. Freshman setter Madison Lilley anchored the offense with 42 assists to couple with 12 digs to mark her second-consecutive double-double. Lilley found six different Wildcats for at least two kills on the night.
Skinner posted 11 hammers, while senior Darian Mack contributed 10. Mack also added six digs and a trio of blocks. Brown boasted nine kills on a .471 attacking clip and three blocks. Junior Brooke Morgan chipped in with three kills and a block.
Franklin was a monster on the front line defensively. The senior notched a match-high eight blocks, including three during the final frame. Freshman Gabby Curry logged a match-high 18 digs to lead three Wildcats in double-figures in that column. Lilley picked up 12, while junior McKenzie Watson added 10. Junior Merideth Jewell chipped in with eight digs and a block, while junior Olivia Dailey dished out four assists to aid the winning cause.
The teams swapped points back and forth until Edmond sparked a 3-0 spurt for the home team to take an 8-5 lead. The sophomore had a kill and an ace during the run. Utah fought back to knot the score at nine apiece. Play continued to seesaw until an ace from Watson enabled the Cats to take a 15-13 edge at the media timeout. Utah would eventually climb back to take a 19-18 lead, but the Utes would commit a service error on the next play to tie the score once again. Neither team would give an inch, until momentum swung in Kentucky’s favor with set point after Watson picked up back-to-back digs on the same play that ended in a Utah attacking error. Following a Utah timeout, the Utes committed another error to lift UK to the 25-23 opening set victory. Kentucky utilized a .308 hitting clip, while limiting Utah to a .162 percentage. Edmond had four kills, while Watson posted five digs to lead the way.
The second set started out in much of the same way as the opening stanza with the teams trading points. Utah captured the first multi-point lead with an 8-6 advantage, but Skinner quickly dispersed of the threat with a kill to end the run. Utah took a timeout after the Wildcats boasted kills on consecutive plays from Mack and Edmond, respectively, to take a 9-8 advantage. Utah fired back, quickly, to grab a 12-11 lead. Brown and Lilley teamed up for a Big Blue block to knot the score yet again. Midway through the set, Utah was able to shake loose for two-straight for a 16-14 edge. Back-to-back kills from Mack and Edmond once again enabled the Cats to reclaim the lead at 17-16. After trading points late in the set, a ball handling error allowed the visitors to push a lead to 22-20, forcing the Cats to take a timeout. Out of the break, the Utes committed a service error and then Skinner produced consecutive kills to push Kentucky into the lead at 23-22. The back-and-forth battle did not slow down, however. Both teams had at least one set point before a Brown conversion off a slide lifted the home team to a 29-27 lead and a 2-0 edge in the match. Edmond’s seven kills and Lilley’s six digs were the difference in the frame. UK had a .378 attacking clip and managed to fend off an impressive .429 percentage by the Utes for the win.
Mack and Franklin began the scoring in the third set with a block. Utah quickly responded with a point of its own and the trading of points began once again. Utah would eventually break free for three straight and an 8-5 lead. Utah’s lead swelled to 11-6. The advantage grew to nine at 20-11 and the Utes eventually captured the set by a 25-13 score.
The patter continued to begin play in the fourth set as the teams again exchanged points. Twenty points into the set at 10-10 and neither team could produce a multi-point advantage. The trend continued all the way into the media timeout with Utah owning a 15-14 advantage. The Utes kept the momentum following the break and eventually built a 19-15 lead. The Utes eventually prevailed to force a decisive fifth frame following a 25-20 win.
BY THE NUMBERS
11 – Times McKenzie Watson has corralled double-figure digs in her career.
7 – Madison Lilley is the seventh player in program history during the 25-point rally-scoring era to post a 40+ assist match.
6 – Matches Leah Edmond has posted 20+ kills in her career.
1 – The first match in Avery Skinner’s career she topped double figures in the kills’ column.
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