Kentucky powers past Arkansas in five sets


Kentucky Wildcats libero Riah Walker (9) reaches to hit the ball during UK volleyball’s game against Southern California on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-0. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke

Kentucky (14-3) beat Arkansas (14-4) 3-2 after initially jumping ahead 2-0. The Razorbacks battled back in the third and fourth sets, but a final kill by Ahzani Tealer won it for the Cats in five. 

Madi Skinner led the Wildcats in kills with 17, and she was followed closely by Alli Stumler with 15. Bella Bell secured 10 blocks for the ‘Cats to help Kentucky double Arkansas 14-7 in the metric. Sophomore Reagan Rutherford also had one of the best games of her career with 12 kills and six blocks.

“Tonight I really just let loose and played my game,” Rutherford said about her performance. “I’ve been in my head lately so I think the big difference tonight was really just letting loose and playing myself and not worrying about messing up or what’s going on outside of volleyball.”

The first set was a close fight with the Razorbacks displaying a different lineup than usual. The largest lead of the set was five with Kentucky ahead 15-10 before a media timeout sparked a 3-0 run for Arkansas. The Razorbacks tied it at 22, but a kill by Skinner began a 3-0 scoring run for Kentucky that was topped off by a kill by Bell for a 25-22 win for the ‘Cats in the first set.

Despite the close first set, the second was all Kentucky. UK started the set with a 3-0 run and went on to go up 8-2 before Arkansas got it back down to four. After the Cats went up 20-11, Arkansas called a timeout in an attempt to halt the Wildcats’ momentum. Though they were able to score off a kill, a point by Rutherford sparked what would ultimately be a 4-0 run for Kentucky. An attack error by Stumler stopped the run, but it was Rutherford with the kill once again, this one securing Kentucky a 25-13 win and a 2-0 lead overall.

The third set started off well for Kentucky with the Wildcats taking a 6-3 lead, but the Hogs were able to go on a run immediately after to tie it at six. The score remained tied for a bit before a kill by Skinner sparked a 4-0 run for the Cats. 

Not phased, Arkansas rattled off a 5-0 run to take the lead for the first time of the night. Kentucky took the lead back, but the Razorbacks refused to go down. Both teams soon found themselves tied at 24 and soon after, tied at 25. Unfortunately for the Cats, Arkansas’ Jillian Gillen recorded two straight kills for a 27-25 Razorback win.

The fourth set started off with another 3-0 run for Kentucky, but the Hogs took the lead soon after and continued fighting a close match. Kentucky went up 12-10, but a kill by Abigail Archibong sparked a 6-0 run for Arkansas to put the Razorbacks up by four. 

Though they continued to fight, Kentucky could never close the gap and a kill by Maggie Cartwright won the set 25-19 for Arkansas and tied the series at two.

“Archibong had a good night offensively behind the setter and we need to get a couple stops on her [in the next game],” head coach Craig Skinner said. “Their outsides are very capable of terminating the ball so we can’t let them get seven or eight kills each set, we’ve got to limit them to some lower numbers.” 

The fifth set started with Arkansas going up 1-0 for the first time in all five sets. Kentucky didn’t let this bother them, though, and after a few key runs found themselves up 8-3. Arkansas rattled off two in a row, but another kill by Rutherford sparked a 4-0 run for Kentucky to make the score 12-5.

Arkansas refused to lay down, but an eventual service error by Gillen was followed by a kill by Ahzani Tealor for a 15-8 Kentucky win in the set, and a 3-2 win overall.

“We’ll have to make some adjustments,” Coach Skinner said following the game. “They came out with a different lineup to start the match and then went back to their old one in the third and fourth sets and obviously that lineup worked better so we’re assuming they’ll stay in that lineup tomorrow.”

The Wildcats battle Arkansas once again tomorrow at Memorial Coliseum for their Halloween match. The match is set to start at 7 p.m. E.T and will air on the SEC Network+.