By Nick Gray
UK volleyball (13-8, 7-4) faces a tough task this weekend, traveling to Knoxville, Tenn. Friday to play Tennessee (14-5, 7-3) and Athens, Ga. Sunday to take on Georgia (13-8, 7-4 SEC) for two divisional showdowns.
With the end of the regular season coming Nov. 23, every team in the SEC is jostling for position in the conference standings and for the NCAA Tournament. In UK’s case, the Cats are stuck in a four team muddle in the SEC East with Missouri, Tennessee and Georgia, as each team has earned seven wins in the SEC to this point. UK faces the Volunteers and Bulldogs this weekend, while the Tigers (15-7, 7-5 SEC) await the Cats during the final week of the regular season. Every team in the SEC East is chasing Florida (17-3, 11-0 SEC), who has already swept UK in two matches this season (3-0 Florida win in Lexington, 3-2 Florida comeback victory in Gainesville).
The focus for the Cats and UK coach Craig Skinner right now is the two tough teams this weekend, starting with Tennessee.
“We have to come out battling and playing aggressive and assertive. No matter the situation in the past with Tennessee, as long as I have been at Kentucky, it has always been a great rivalry with competitive matches,” Skinner said. “I know the team knows and stresses that and will come out to play hard.”
In a nationally televised matchup Sept. 26 versus Tennessee, UK played in a front of an energetic crowd and swept the Volunteers in three sets. Tennessee is led by junior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson, who is second in the SEC in kills with 4.45 kills per set. Robinson, who also adds 3.47 digs per set defensively, struggled in the first match against the Cats with eight kills and four errors in three sets. The Volunteers also feature sophomore outside hitter Tiffany Baker (3.17 kills per set).
UK has yet to face Georgia this season. The Bulldogs swept Missouri 3-0 in front of a national television audience and will have an extra few days of preparation for UK.
“Georgia is very balanced. They have a lot of people with arms that can terminate the ball. If we do not serve well enough to get them out of system (offensively), then we will have to play great defense because they have people who can terminate the ball,” Skinner said.
Georgia is led up front by junior outside hitter Brittany Northcutt (2.95 kills per set, 2.61 digs per set), senior Briana Bahr (2.59 kills per set, .84 blocks per set) and sophomore outside hitter Tirah Le’au (2.84 kills per set). The Bulldogs have won four of their last five matchups.