Kentucky’s newcomers combined for 41 kills and eight blocks on Wednesday, led by sophomore transfer Brooke Bartek’s career-high 16 kills, as the Wildcats defeated Tennessee, 3-1 (30-28, 30-28, 22-30, 30-24), for the third consecutive meeting in front of 1,158 fans in Memorial Coliseum.
The Cats have now won three straight meetings with the Lady Vols for the first time since the 1994-95 seasons and improve to 13-3 overall and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference. Tennessee drops to 7-5 on the year and 2-3 in the SEC.
Bartek was one of four Wildcats to register double-figure kills in the match. Senior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker added 13 kills and 13 digs for her team-best 10th double-double of the season, while freshman right-side hitter Lauren Rapp, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week had 13 kills – one off her career high – with four digs and two blocks. Freshman outside hitter Blaire Hiler recorded 10 kills to complement five digs and three blocks.
The Cats, who coming into the match ranked second in the league in hitting percentage, uncharacteristically were out-hit .196-.184, but used heart and perseverance to defeat the Lady Vols.
“I feel very good about getting a win tonight against a very talented Tennessee team,” said UK head coach Craig Skinner. “Our competitiveness in games one, two and four outweighed our lack of great statistics tonight.”
Sophomore setter Sarah Rumely notched her second double-double of the season with 52 assists and a career-high 18 digs. Sophomore defensive specialist BriAnne Sauer had 17 digs on the night, while junior middle blocker Queen Nzenwa led the blocking attack with six rejections.
Kentucky got off to a fast start in the opening game, breaking to a 4-1 advantage and the Wildcats extended their lead to 9-5 after back-to-back kills by freshman Sarah Mendoza and Britenriker. The Lady Vols ran off a pair of points to come within two, 9-7, before Britenriker drilled a kill down the right side and Nzenwa followed with a kill of her own in the middle to make it 11-7 UK. With the Wildcats leading 13-11, Tennessee scored seven consecutive points to take an 18-13 advantage before a kill by Rapp on the angle stopped the UT scoring spree. That kill started a 3-1 UK run, including another kill by Rapp, and brought the Wildcats within three at 19-16.
Rapp then served a ball that crawled over the net tape and found the floor for an ace to bring the Cats as close as two. With Kentucky down 21-18, Bartek and Britenriker teamed for a block before Bartek posted a kill to put the Wildcats within one at 22-21. A Tennessee error knotted the score at 22-all before Nzenwa gave the Cats the lead with a kill. On the ensuing play, Bartek crushed a free ball to give UK a two-point, 24-22 advantage. The Lady Vols knotted the score at 24 and went ahead 27-25 before UK began making its comeback. A block by Nzenwa and Hiler made it 27-all and, after another tie at 28, Tennessee made an attack error before Hiler’s kill ended the 30-28 win.
The Wildcats took a 7-5 advantage in the second game after a kill by Nzenwa. Three consecutive errors against Kentucky allowed Tennessee to go ahead 8-7. Leading 10-9, Tennessee ran off five consecutive points to go in front 15-9 before a service error by the Lady Vols ended their scoring streak. Tennessee kept rolling to a 20-16 advantage that forced Skinner to burn a timeout. Out of the break, the Wildcats scored five of the next six points to go ahead 21-20. After the Lady Vols went in front 24-22, Britenriker registered a kill and Tennessee committed three consecutive attack errors to allow Kentucky to go up 26-24. After three ties, Britenriker registered a kill and the Lady Vols followed with an attack error to bring UK to game point at 29-27 before a kill by Nzenwa closed out the 30-28 victory.
The Lady Vols broke to an 11-7 advantage to begin game three before a Hiler kill stopped the Tennessee scoring spree and sparked a 4-1 Kentucky run that knotted the score at 12. After the Lady Vols went in front 15-12, Bartek posted a kill to stop the rally. Tennessee, however, kept rolling to a 24-18 advantage before a Bartek kill. The Wildcats were never able to get closer than four points, 25-21, in a 30-22 game-three loss.
Kentucky opened game four on an 8-3 tear capped off by a kill from Rapp. Back-to-back put-downs by Hiler and Rumely extended the UK advantage to 10-4. Tennessee committed three consecutive errors to allow the Wildcats to go in front 14-9 and forced UT coach Rob Patrick to call a timeout. Out of the break, the Cats continued to thrive, moving in front 19-11 after three kills by Bartek in four plays. Trailing 22-12, the Lady Vols scored three consecutive points to come within seven, 22-15, and cause a Kentucky timeout. Tennessee came as close as four points, 25-21, but Bartek posted a kill to stop the drought and a pair of kills by Britenriker finished off the match with a 30-24 Kentucky victory. The Wildcats hit a match-best .280 in the final frame.
Kentucky returns to action Friday when it plays host to Arkansas. Opening serve is set for 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum and live statistics will be available at ukathletics.com. The Wildcats are currently in second place in the SEC East, while Arkansas is last in the league’s Western Division.