LEXINGTON, Ky. (WYMT) – The No. 19 University of Kentucky volleyball team used another strong offensive performance and a dominating service game to sweep Tennessee 3-0 (25-14, 25-16, 25-19) Sunday afternoon in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats (12-3, 4-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to seven matches in the win over the Lady Volunteers (8-9, 0-3), and have won 19 of their last 20 sets. The perfect 4-0 Southeastern Conference mark is the best start to conference play since 2009, when UK claimed the first nine contests to open league action.
“They seem to be ready to go each and every match,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “I don’t really sense any kind of a different team depending on who we’re playing, whether it’s home or on the road and that’s a good sign of senior leadership and our captains making sure that everybody’s engaged. So I think that’s probably one of the most important parts of that.”
Kentucky hit .348 with 42 kills and held the Tennessee offense to 31 kills on a .139 hitting clip. Defensively, UK had 8.5 blocks as a team, while holding UT to just 3.0. The Wildcats also had a 45-31 advantage in digs and had 10 service aces to the Lady Vols’ one.
“That was as much pressure as we’ve put on a team with our serve in a while,” Skinner said. “And they have some very good passers on their team and I thought we did a nice job of hitting the zones that (assistant coach) Lindsey (Gray-Walton) was giving. Against good teams and as we go through the season, we’re going to have to do that because you can’t just align your block all the time. Your serve’s got to give you opportunities to score.”
Senior Whitney Billings continued her impressive season with another double-digit kill performance. The right side hitter had 13 kills on a .267 clip and just missed out on a double-double with nine digs. Fellow senior Alexandra Morgan notched seven kills for a .400 attacking percentage, while freshman Anni Thomasson posted six kills on 11 attempts for a .545 mark. Sophomore Sara Schwarzwalder contributed six kills on a .556 clip and added a team-high five blocks. Junior Lauren O’Conner and sophomore Shelby Workman chipped in with three and two kills apiece.
Junior Jackie Napper continued to shine defensively with a match-best 16 digs. Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren directed the offense to the tune of a .348 attacking clip while dishing out 33 assists. She added four hammers, four digs and a trio of blocks.
Three UK players logged three aces on the afternoon including Billings, Thomasson and Bergren. The 10 service aces was a season-high total.
UK’s next test will be its toughest of the season, Friday at No. 3 Florida. Kentucky also travels to South Carolina on Sunday.
The Wildcats began the first set in a 2-0 hole, but after the score was knotted at six, the UK offense exploded to score 12 of the next 15 points to take an 18-9 lead. Kentucky scored six of the next 10 points to set up set point at 24-13, and, after UT notched the next score, the Wildcats secured a 25-14 win thanks to a Lady Vol service error. UK hit .348 in the frame and had 11 kills, four from Billings. The Wildcats recorded six service aces, with three coming off the arm of Bergren.
Kentucky claimed a 25-16 decision in the second set to take a 2-0 lead. The Wildcats hit .382 in the frame on the strength of 16 kills, five from Morgan. Napper recorded seven digs in the set, while Billings added two service aces. UK opened the stanza with three-straight points, a lead it quickly extended to 11-4 and 14-6. The Wildcats and Volunteers traded points for the remainder of the set until UK took a 24-14 lead. UT fought off two-straight set points from Kentucky before a kill from Morgan resulted in the final tally.
UK found itself down early and in a back-and-forth battle midway through the third set before a strong finish secured a 25-19 win and the sweep. The final frame featured 13 ties and six lead changes, but, with the score even at 16 apiece, Kentucky scored eight of the next 10 points to take a 24-18 lead and establish set point in which Billings laced her 13th kill of the night for the winning point. The Wildcats, thanks to six kills from Billings, hit .314 in the frame with 15 kills. Billings also had four digs, along with Napper, while Schwarzwalder notched three block assists.
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.