UK sweeps Duquesne in NCAA volleyball

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Making its ninth-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, the 15th-seeded University of Kentucky volleyball team opened NCAA play with a 3-0 (25-23, 25-17, 25-17) win over Duquesne in the first round Saturday evening in Memorial Coliseum.

With the win, the Wildcats (22-8), improved to 15-14 overall in the NCAA Tournament and 8-8 in postseason play in the Craig Skinner era. The win marked the 10th tournament win in Lexington for the Blue and White, who hold a 10-3 record in Memorial Coliseum, a run that includes hosting five of the last six seasons.

“It was a good 3-0 win,” Skinner said. “I was actually really happy (with) how aggressive we came out in set one. You never know how you’re going to come out, so I thought we did a nice job being aggressive. We made a couple of errors but that’s fine. We want to be aggressive and you have to play like that in the tournament. Congratulations to Duquesne on a great year. They came out with purpose to win the match and they did a nice job of forcing us to be a little bit more intelligent with some of the things we did. Our defense picked up.”

UK, ranked 17th in the country, advances to the second round for the third consecutive season and will host No. 20 Michigan State Sunday at 4 p.m. ET in the Coliseum. The winner of the second round match will advance to next weekend’s NCAA Regionals, also hosted by Kentucky in Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats made the Sweet 16 in 2011 and 2012 but are looking for their third straight regional visit for the first time in program history.

The offensive attack was led by senior Whitney Billings, who had a match-high 18 kills on .406 hitting to go along with eight digs and two service aces.. Freshman Anni Thomasson also reached double digits with 12 kills and three digs, while junior libero Jackie Napper recorded 11 digs.

“[Whitney Billings and Alexandra Morgan] did a really nice job of following the game plan and hitting smart shots,” Skinner said. “And, our serving was very good tonight so definitely going to compliment that and being able to limit some of the options that Duquesne had offensively. Overall, very pleased with being able to get out of Round One with a victory.”
Senior Alexandra Morgan led the squad with five blocks to go along with three digs and six kills on .455 hitting. Sophomore Kayla Tronick tallied five kills, while junior Lauren O’Conner had four kills and a service ace. Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren dished out 43 assists. Coming off the bench, freshman Kelsey Wolf registered six digs.

Kentucky posted 51 kills in the match and hit .337 while holding Duquesne to 32 kills on a .183 hitting clip. No DU player was able to record more than 10 kills in the match. UK tallied four service aces and 36 digs. Kentucky had a 6-3 advantage in blocks.

UK won the opening set 25-23, but it was a back-and-forth affair for much of the frame before each team recorded two runs of at least three points to finish the set. The Dukes scored the first point of the opening set on a UK attacking error, but the Wildcats quickly responded and scored three of the next four to take a 3-2 lead. Kentucky kept the lead for four more points, but Duquesne took a 6-5 lead, which they would extend to 11-8 thanks to a 3-0 spurt. The two teams traded points before the Wildcats scored three straight of their own.

The first set featured 13 ties, the last of which occurred at 16-all. Trailing 16-15, the Wildcats turned it up a notch and scored five points to earn a 20-16 advantage. The Dukes tallied the next three, followed by a 4-0 string by the Blue and White to set up set point at 24-19. DU would take the next four to make it a one-point match, before Billings notched her fourth kill of the set to seal the opening-frame victory.

The Wildcats hit .308 in the stanza with 18 kills. The offensive attack was led by Billings, Morgan and Thomasson, all with four kills. Morgan’s hammers came on just five swings for a .800 hitting clip to accompany contributing three of UK’s four blocks. Bergren had 15 assists, while O’Conner produced UK’s lone service ace. Napper led the squad with five digs.

The Wildcats quickly opened up a 1-0 lead in the second set, a lead they would never yield and turn in a 25-17 win. The Dukes tied it at 1-1, and again at 5-5, but that was as close as they would get the rest of the way. Billings set the tone early with four of her five kills by the time UK had a 5-3 advantage. With the score tied at five, Kentucky tallied six consecutive points for an 11-5 lead, the largest margin of the match.

UK never let DU get within three points, but the Wildcats could not extend their lead past six points until a 3-0 run gave them a 22-15 advantage. Duquesne scored two of the next three points, but Kentucky responded with the final two tallies for the win, courtesy of kills from Thomasson and Tronick.

Billings led the way for the Wildcats with five kills and hit .625 in the set in addition to four digs. Kentucky notched 16 kills and hit .250, including four from Thomasson. Bergren tallied 12 assists. Morgan and Bergren each had a block assist.

The third set once again went the way of the Wildcats by a 25-17 score, but it was close through the first 20 points. Billings once again gave UK its first point with a kill, and the lead was quickly extended to 5-2 and 9-5. The Dukes would not go down without a fight though, and rallied back to tie the third frame at nine apiece and then take a 10-9 lead. The two squads traded points before an 8-1 Kentucky run gave the Blue and White a 20-12 advantage.

It was back-and-forth for the final 10 points before Billings closed the set like she began it, with her ninth kill of the stanza. The senior hit .538 in the frame with just two errors and added two service aces and two digs. Napper had four digs and Thomasson added four kills. In the final set, the Wildcats hit for 17 kills on a .483 hitting clip.

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