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Strong finishes fuel No. 18 UK’s sweep of Morehead State

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- With the assist of three strong finishes, the No. 18 University of Kentucky volleyball team swept Morehead State, 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 28-26), Monday evening in Memorial Coliseum in the season’s final non-conference contest of the season.

Kentucky (8-3) used runs of 10-2, 6-2 and 9-4 to close each frame against Morehead State (9-5) to earn its fifth sweep of the season. The Wildcats, who begin Southeastern Conference play Friday at Auburn, own a 6-1 record at home.

“That’s a pleasing part of this match for sure,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said on his teams’ finishes. “I thought our concentration level went way up when we got to point 20. That’s a sign of a mature team and a competitive group. That was definitely a plus.”

UK posted 49 kills in the match, 14 more than MSU’s 35. The Wildcats also out-dug the Eagles 60-48, but were out-blocked 12-6. All three victories featured dynamic finishes from the Blue and White. The final frame’s finish was of the comeback variety.

“That feels good,” Skinner said. “I’m happy with the way we competed at the end of that last set and pulled out a close game. Morehead is a great serving team and a pretty balanced team and they made us work.”

Senior Whitney Billings paced the way for UK with 13 kills and contributed 14 digs for her 36th career double-double. Morgan Bergren’s 36 assists was a match high, while she added eight digs and seven kills. Jackie Napper’s 16 digs was a team best for the seventh time this year.

UK found itself down 8-5 early in the opening set, but responded to tie it at eight a piece. It was back-and-forth until MSU took a 16-15 lead. That’s when the Wildcats took control and closed the frame on a 10-2 run to claim the 25-18 victory.

In the set-clinching run, Bergren accounted for seven points, with three kills, three assists and one service ace. The sophomore setter paced the Cats with five kills on a blistering .883 hitting clip. She added 11 assists, while Billings contributed eight digs and three kills. Senior Alexandra Morgan had four kills in the frame.

The Wildcats never trailed in the second frame, and there were just two ties, but the 25-21 win did not come easily. After the Blue and White broke a 1-1 tie, UK could not extend its lead past five points, and a 14-9 advantage soon turned into a 19-19 tie. Once again, Kentucky closed the set on a strong note with five consecutive points to make it 24-19. After two MSU points, a service error from the Eagles gave the Wildcats the win.

Sophomore Lauren O’Conner posted five kills in the set, while Bergren netted 13 assists and senior Jessi Greenberg had five digs to lead UK.

The third and final set was just as tight as the second, but it was Morehead State who held the lead throughout. Kentucky trailed 5-1 early and 15-11 midway through the set, but the Cats fought back to get within one at 15-14. UK tied the score at 18 before it went down 22-19. Again, it was time for a strong finish to close the set and secure the win. The Wildcats knotted three consecutive points to tie it at 22-22. A 24-23 edge set up match point, but the Eagles tallied two straight points to take a 25-24 lead. An attack error from MSU tied it at 25, and another attack error gave UK a 26-25 advantage. After a UK service error resulted in a 26-26 deadlock, Morehead State responded with a service error of its own to give Kentucky the 27-26 lead. Sophomore Shelby Workman put the finishing touches on the win with an assist from Bergren.

A match-high seven kills from Billings led the way in the frame, followed by Workman’s five. Bergren added 12 assists, while she and Napper each posted three digs.

Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Seattle, Wash., from the Lexington Region. This marks the second time in three seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event.


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