MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Another gritty comeback effort ended in a heartbreaker as the Kentucky volleyball team suffered a 3-2 (16-25, 26-24, 25-17, 19-25, 17-15) loss to Florida State in the round of 16 at the NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis, Minn. Senior BriAnne Sauer’s 23 digs propelled her to claim the single-season digs record in UK history in the loss.
Kentucky (29-5) suffered the heartbreaker after storming back to force a deciding fifth stanza. Kentucky’s tenacity also enabled the Blue and White to fight off four set points and a three-point deficit in the middle of the fifth frame.
UK had four players reach double-figures in the kill column led by juniors Sarah Mendoza with 19 and Lauren Rapp with a season-high 18 hammers. Junior Blaire Hiler eclipsed a career-best with 15 kills and sophomore Becky Pavan added 13. Kentucky used a .290 hitting clip in the match and accounted for 75 kills. Senior setter Sarah Rumely dished out a season-high 63 assists while Sauer led the defensive effort with 23 digs.
Mendoza registered her fifth straight double-double effort with the 19 kills and 14 digs. Rapp posted six blocks and sophomore Gretchen Giesler turned back four. Junior Laura Stokowski and freshman Stephanie Klefot picked up six digs each in the loss.
Rapp had the first point of the fifth set to give UK the early edge. Florida State responded quickly with a point of its own and the teams traded points back and forth until Florida State broke free for back to back kills to take a 6-4 lead. Florida State maintained its two point edge into the switch of benches with an 8-6 lead after the Seminoles earned a kill that rolled the length of the net and barely fell into the court of play on its eight point of the set.
Out of the break Rapp posted a kill to bring UK within one and then Florida State had another stroke of luck when a ball just graced the net and dropped in front of UK’s defense to take a 9-7 edge. Back-to-back kills enabled the Seminoles to take an 11-8 advantage forcing UK into a timeout. Kentucky fired back with consecutive kills from Mendoza and Hiler to pull to within one again at 11-10. This time Florida State opted for a timeout.
Florida State earned a rejection out of the timeout to once again earn a two-point lead at 12-10. Hiler came up with another huge kill and UK once again got to within one. A long defensive battle ended in a slam by Pavan to tie the score at 12 apiece. Florida State responded with a kill of its own to go ahead once again. Hiler’s answer tied the score at 13 as she found a seam deep in the backcourt. UK served the ball into the net to give Florida State set point, but Rapp kept the match alive with a kill. Kentucky then committed another unforced error to allow Florida State to earn set point at 15-14 and UK opted to use its final timeout.
A block from Rapp and Pavan once again kept the match alive for the Wildcats, but Florida State captured set point again with a kill and the match ended on a service ace giving Florida State the victory.
The Seminoles captured the first two points of the fourth stanza to gain an early advantage. Rapp’s kill made the score 2-1 in favor of the home team. Florida State would go on to score the next four points to take a 6-1edge. UK would slowly climb back into the thick of things with a 6-0 run to take a 9-8 lead. Hiler had three kills in the stretch and Giesler and Rumely came up with a huge momentum changing block to ignite the UK rally. After watching the Wildcats rattle off six unanswered points Florida State chose to use burn an early timeout.
Out of the timeout Giesler and Rumely teamed up again for another rejection to give UK a 10-8 lead. The Wildcats took their largest lead of the early going at 12-9 after another Hiler kill. After a long rally that featured tremendous defensive plays from both sides of the net Rapp ended the run with a timely kill to bring the crowd to its feet and give the Wildcats a 14-11 lead. UK continue to thrive as Rapp was in on back-to-back blocks to allow UK to take a 16-11 edge. After consecutive points from Florida State, Mendoza ended the rally with another kill to keep the Wildcats ahead.
UK’s defense forced the Seminoles into an errant attack and UK took a 21-14 advantage. After consecutive points for FSU, Giesler came up with a solo block to keep the Seminoles at bay. Hiler’s kill and another miscue from the Florida State enabled UK to capture a 25-19 set four win to force a deciding fifth stanza.
Kentucky used a .222 attack percentage and 16 kills in the fourth set. The Wildcat defense limited Florida State to a mere .049 hitting clip and just 10 kills. Kentucky’s six blocks in the set proved to be the difference maker.
Florida State opened the scoring with a kill, but Kentucky quickly responded when Pavan slammed down a kill to get the Blue and White on the board. The Seminoles took the next two points, but then the Wildcats stormed back with a kill from Rapp and back-to-back service aces from Sauer. Kentucky took its first lead thanks to a miscue from the Seminoles when the server put the ball into the next giving UK a 6-5 edge. The Wildcats would take their largest lead of the early going after three straight kills from UK’s offense allowed the designated visitors to take a 12-8 lead and force Florida State into a timeout.
Out of the early break, Mendoza fired back with another kill. UK continued to stretch its lead taking a seven-point advantage at 17-10 after another ace this time from Rapp. The Blue and White did not let up despite a consecutive points from the Seminoles to make the score 20-15. Hiler fired back with a kill and Rumely earned her second ace of the stanza to give UK a 22-15 lead. Florida State opted to use its final timeout of the set.
Rapp came up with a solo block from the middle out of the timeout to give the Wildcats a 23-15 lead. Rapp and Mendoza capped off the set with kills to allow Kentucky to earn the first set victory with the score of 25-16.
UK hit a blistering .500 in the stanza with 17 kills as five UK players had at least one kill led by Mendoza’s opening seven to begin the night. Kentucky totaled just two errors, while Florida State hit .323 but tallied just 11 kills. Kentucky also totaled five serving aces to aid the UK cause.
Pavan started the scoring in the second frame when she sent a scorching kill into the center of the court and then came up with a solo block on the next possession to give the Wildcats the early 2-0 advantage. Florida State would not go away though as UK could only stretch its lead to a three point edge at 13-10 after a Rapp kill. The Wildcats took a two-point lead on another Rapp kill into the media timeout to give UK the 15-13 advantage.
With her seventh dig of the match in the second set Sauer set the single-season school record for digs in a single season. Kentucky earned its largest lead of the stanza at 17-13 off of a kill from Rumely when she took a turn swinging away into the Florida State defense. The Seminoles slowly chipped away at the lead however, as the designated home team pulled to with 19-18 after three straight points forcing UK to use its first timeout.
Pavan posted her eighth kill of the match out of the break to give UK a 20-18 edge, however Florida State would come back to tie the score at 20 with consecutive kills. The Seminoles earned their first lead of the entire set with a kill to make the score 22-21. Florida State captured a two point edge at 23-21 after a misfire by the Wildcats. The Seminoles earned set point at 24-22, but UK’s offensive onslaught confused the defensive effort and Florida State committed a ball handling error to allow the Wildcats to pull to within 24-23. Florida State then opted to use its first timeout of the set with UK on the brink of tying the score. Mendoza came up with the kill to tie the score at 24 and force the set into extra points.
Florida State earned the first point on a kill and then the Seminoles were able to capture the second stanza on a final ace at 26-24. Kentucky hit just .275 in the second set while Florida State did not hit any better with a .216 average. Kentucky posted 17 kills and Florida State had only 14. The difference in the second set was UK’s four service errors.
The Seminoles opened the scoring in the third set with the first three points going to the home team. Pavan scored the first point for UK to make the score 3-1 in favor of Florida State. Giesler’s kill made the score six a piece for the set’s first tie. Pavan’s kill on an over pass gave the Wildcats their first lead of the stanza at 8-7. Florida State used a 4-0 run to take a 12-9 lead and force UK into an early timeout. Out of the break the Seminoles took the next three points to stretch the lead to 15-9.
Florida State continued to maintain its comfortable advantage, but back-to-back FSU miscues enabled the Wildcats to pull back to within 22-15 and force the Seminoles into a timeout. Kentucky benefited from another FSU error out of the break to inch closer at 22-16, however the Seminoles fired back with consecutive points to earn set point at 24-16. Hiler’s kill saved one set point, but Florida State scored the next point on a kill to earn a 25-17 set three victory.
UK posted a match-low .191 hitting percentage and had just 11 kills. Florida State erupted for a .355 attacking percentage and 16 kills. Florida State was also able to come up with four blocks in the frame to help overcome the Wildcats.