UK Volleyball drops banner; sweeps Northern Iowa in home opener


Kentucky Wildcats outside hitter Madi Skinner (2) hits the ball during UK’s home opener against Northern Iowa on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-0. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

No. 3 Kentucky volleyball returned to Memorial Coliseum for their first home match of the 2021 season, sweeping Northern Iowa 3-0 (25-5, 25-17, 25-19) at the Bluegrass Battle, following the unveiling of their 2020 National Championship banner.

UK had three Wildcats finish the match with double-digit kills, as Madi Skinner collected 12, followed by Azhani Tealer and Alli Stumler each finishing the match with 11.

“I felt good tonight,” said Skinner. Through four matches, the sophomore has already recorded 47 points. 

The Panthers were held to just 23 kills, finishing with an .048 hitting percentage.

“I talked a lot about our defense and the first set, our defense was very present,” said UK head coach Craig Skinner. 

Kentucky got off to a hot start, as they finished the first set on a 19-2 scoring run, led by six kills from Skinner. Tealer recorded five blocks, while setter Emma Grome denied three kills herself. 

UNI committed 11 errors in the first set, leading to the long UK scoring run. 

The second set would see more of the same from the Cats, as Stumler would record six kills to lead the way. The Panthers did not have a player record more thank six kills on the night. 

Northern Iowa would attempt to put up a fight in the third set, but five more kills from Tealer would seal the deal for another Kentucky sweep.

UK libero’s Riah Walker and Lauren Tharp each recorded 10 digs, while freshman Eleanor Beavin finished the match with eight. 

Grome finished the night with 34 assists, the most of any setter on the court. When asked how she was able to utilize the weapons that were surrounding her, the freshman acknowledged her embarrassment of riches:

“Oh, there’s everyone. Okay, that’s the thing I love about this team is that literally every option is a good option, which makes it easy for me or easier, I guess,” Grome said. “Because I know that no matter who I set, I have a good option there. So it makes it fun, I can keep the offense simple and just dish it out.

Big Blue Nation was back in full force tonight, as over 2000 fans were in attendance for the home opener. 

“For us to have that type of crowd on opening night, first football weekend around the country, you know it says a lot about our fans wanting to see these guys perform and and hopefully the new ones that came, want to come back tomorrow,” said coach Skinner.

The Wildcats will return to action tomorrow for the culmination of the Bluegrass Battle, as they will first take on Creighton at 10:30 a.m. E.T, followed by the nightcap against Southern California at 7:30 p.m. E.T.