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By Nick Gray
Vaulting off of two five set divisional victories on the road, UK volleyball returns home trying to continue the momentum against Ole Miss on Friday and South Carolina on Sunday.
Both the Rebels (10-11, 4-8 SEC) and the Gamecocks (15-10, 3-10 SEC) sport sub .500 records in conference play, a reprieve for the Cats. In the last four games, UK has played three teams with winning records in the conference, including SEC West leading Arkansas who swept the Cats two weeks ago.
Those three games also included games last weekend against Tennessee and Georgia, both of which were UK wins. The Cats came from two sets down to win 3-2 against the Volunteers and held off a Bulldog rally to defeat Georgia by the same score.
“The biggest thing as coaches is that they had the same mentality in games one and two (against Tennessee) — when we didn’t make and execute plays and they did — as games three, four and five,” UK coach Craig Skinner said. “I think the demeanor and the competitiveness as a team never changed throughout the match and that was an important step.”
Senior Christine Hartmann received her second SEC Player of the Week award in three weeks for her efforts against Tennessee and Georgia. Against the Volunteers, Hartmann fell a kill short of a triple-double, earning 9 kills, 11 digs and 52 assists. In Athens, she led UK defensively with a career high 19 digs along with 58 assists and four kills offensively.
“It was very difficult for Tennessee to figure out who she was going to set. She kept them off balance. She found people at the right time,” Skinner said. “When four players have over 10 kills in a game and playing the defense that she did, when your setter is doing those kinds of things, it makes you a stronger team.”
Looking into the future, Kentucky has only lost twice at home against the SEC. Both Ole Miss and South Carolina have earned just one victory on the road in conference action
UK goes head to head with Ole Miss Friday at 7:00 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. The Rebels are led by junior Kara Morgan (3.18 kills per game) and senior Alegra Wells (2.48 kills per game) around the net on offense. Senior Ashley Veach is among the SEC’s best in digging out balls on defense (4.44 digs per set).
The Cats face South Carolina Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum. The Gamecocks have lost 10 out of their last 12 matches which includes three straight three set sweeps in the last 12 days. South Carolina’s offense is fueled by junior Juliette Thevenin who has earned 4.12 kills per set this season, good for third in the SEC. Defensively, junior Paige Wheeler ranks in the top ten in the conference in digs with 4.02 digs per set.