By Paul Martin
The No. 13 Florida Gators spooked the Cats early, but didn’t scare them.
The 24th-ranked UK squad ousted the Gators 3-2 (25-23, 19-25, 25-21, 17-25, 15-9) in a wild Halloween weekend tilt at Memorial Coliseum.
The Cats needed this victory to stay in the hunt for an SEC regular season title, and did so with relentless enthusiasm on both offense and defense.
“I have got to hand this one to the players. They willed us to win and they competed. They bent a little bit, but didn’t break,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “This group loves to come to the gym every day, and it is a great group to coach.”
The gym was brought to life in the tense 5th set. The scoring went back and forth until Florida’s Kristy Jaeckel Florida committed a serving error with UK leading 10-9. From that juncture, the Cats reeled off five points in a row to win 15-9.
The last point of the game was a monster kill from senior hitter Becky Pavan, which sent the crowd into jubilation.
“We knew this was going to be a great game,” Pavan said. “They are a tough team. In our minds we had the idea that we were going to win this game.”
The Cats were anchored on offense by juniors Whitney Billings and Ashley Frazier. Billings tallied 17 kills, with Frazier notching 16 kills for the day. Both had scoring percentages above .300 during the match.
“The nice thing about what Frazier and Billings did was that they had a lot of kills, but did not error very much,” Skinner said. “Hitting over .300 with that many attempts is a credit to them, to be able to understand when and how to kill the ball.”
Florida played a solid match as well, as the Gators had five players with double-digit kills on the afternoon. Senior Kelly Murphy led Florida with 15 kills against UK.
“Florida is a tough team,” Skinner said. “They put a lot of pressure on you with their serve, as everyone saw today. You have got to weather the storm, and I thought we did a really nice job of passing the ball in the 5th game. It was a huge reason why we were successful. Our defense was awfully good. It broke down a little bit at times, but it was there when we needed it.”
UK improved its record to 21-4 overall and 12-2 in league play. Florida headed home with three loses in conference action, which leaves only Tennessee above UK in the East standings.
Last Friday evening, the Cats notched an impressive win over South Carolina 3-0 (25-17, 25-17, 25-20) at Memorial Coliseum. Defense was once again pivotal, as sophomore defensive specialist Jessi Greenberg tallied 17 digs. The Cats offense totaled 50 kills for the match, led by Frazier with 14.
The next home game is 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, against Mississippi State.
The Cats will look to keep momentum intact and exact revenge on the Bulldogs after losing in Starkville three weeks ago.