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It was an emotional day at Memorial Coliseum as the UK volleyball program sent off two of its top players in front of a packed house.
Seniors Lauren Rapp and Blaire Hiler were honored before the team’s game against Louisiana State at UK’s annual Senior Day. UK then took the court and sent their seniors off in style by defeating No. 15 LSU in a five-set thriller 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 18-25, 15-11.
“I am just really proud of (Rapp and Hiler),” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “They played like seniors in a senior match; there were a lot of emotions and a lot riding on this match. I have been proud of them their entire career, they have given everything they have to this program, and this program is in debt to them they are always going to be Kentucky Wildcats.”
The Cats’ offense was streaky during the match, but kicked into gear when they needed it the most. UK posted a .500 hitting percentage in the fifth and deciding set. It also hit at least .300 in each of the three sets they won. Freshman Whitney Billings led the charge with 18 kills for the match, while Rapp followed with 17 kills of her own on her senior day.
“We have nothing to lose right now so we are just going all out,” Billings said. “Our motto right now is just go for it. I’ve just been getting excited after a block or a kill and just use my emotions.”
“The way we had been playing the last few weeks was the way we needed to play today and the only way you win matches against good teams is going for it,” Skinner said. “If you get conservative then you can’t win, and we were completely aggressive for most of the match today.”
The win against a ranked opponent puts UK back in the picture for an NCAA tournament bid. Coupled with its straight-set victory Friday night over the Arkansas Razorbacks, the win puts UK (16-12, 10-8) back on the tournament bubble, with games at Mississippi and home against Tennessee remaining.
“You never know, it obviously helps” Skinner said. “You definitely want as many wins against top-50 opponents as possible to prove that you can beat teams that are going to be in the NCAA tournament.”
After UK finished off the emotional match point, the entire team embraced on the court to celebrate not only the victory, but also to celebrate their seniors who have led them all season long.
Blaire Hiler totaled over 200 kills and has led the team in kills in 13 matches thus far. Rapp posted another successful season, as well. A four-year starter and three-time All-Southeastern Conference performer, Rapp is now second all time at UK with over 200 block assists, and is top 10 all time with over 1,250 kills for her career. She is one of just 14 Cats to record at least 1,000 kills at UK.
“(Senior Day) was more than I ever expected,” Rapp said. “The team played great today, I am really excited. It’s the closest team that I’ve ever been with, and this is an exciting time for us. This team deserves it, deserves to go to the postseason and I am excited for us.”