Wildcats dominate Hilltoppers 3-0 to push into Elite Eight


Kentucky Wildcats opposite Azhani Tealer (15) spikes the ball during the UK vs. Ole Miss volleyball game on Friday, March 12, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-0. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Braden Ramsey

After a 95-minute delay due to the duration of earlier tournament contests, the No. 2 team in the country wasted little time in its 3-0 dispatching of previously unbeaten No. 18 WKU, putting itself on the verge of the Final Four. The Hilltoppers are the second team in a row that the Cats have dealt their first loss.

Kentucky followed up an electric offensive showing in the second round against UNLV with one you could argue is equally impressive, recording a .450 hit percentage after going off for .468 versus the Rebels. Four different players tallied at least seven kills, including Azhani Tealer, who went 8-for-9 on attack opportunities.

“It really felt like we could do no wrong,” Tealer said post-match.

This was expected to be an offensive showdown, and it appeared it would be early on. Ultimately though, only the Cats lived up to the billing. In front 15-13 when the media timeout hit in set one, Kentucky outscored the Hilltoppers 10-7 to finish set one and 50-26 the rest of the match.

“Offensively, when we get in a rhythm, it can wear on people,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “It can cause some frustration [for opponents].”

From that first set media timeout onward, the Cats were locked in on defense. WKU came into the contest at second in the nation in hit percentage (.354) – trailing only UK (.364) – but ended the night at a paltry mark of .093 thanks to a tenacious front line and 33 Wildcat digs. Skinner was extremely impressed with the effort on that side of the net.

“We held them under .100,” he said.” [That’s] a pretty amazing night defensively”

Madison Lilley again demonstrated why she was the SEC Player of the Year, notching 38 assists, nine digs, two kills and two blocks to anchor the squad. Alli Stumler (17) and Madi Skinner (11) each ventured into double-digit kill territory behind hit percentages of .483 and .400, respectively. Stumler commented she loves being part of a roster that seemingly has no ceiling.

“There’s always another level to get to,” she said. “It’s awesome being on a team like that.”

According to Tealer, the long wait to take the floor had the team giddy and anxious. But in such an unpredictable environment, you have to maintain composure and be flexible, which she believes Kentucky has done effectively so far and can continue to do.

“We just have to be the best team at going with the flow,” she said. “I think we’ve done a really good job at this point.”

Getting to this stage of the tournament is just scratching the surface of this year’s expectations, but that doesn’t mean it’s an achievement to gloss over. Stumler, and the team itself, expressed gratitude at being in this position following “a year like this.”

“We’ve been working for over a year. Whether that was in quarantine, working out at home or in the gym where we only had five people maybe because some were quarantined or we couldn’t get all 15 people in the gym,” she said. “It’s awesome and rewarding to see everything pay off.”

With a match time set for approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Elite Eight battle between Florida and Wisconsin, which begins at 6:30 p.m. E.T., there’s only one thing currently on the mind of players and coaches.

“Sleep,” Craig Skinner chuckled. “Sleep in… sleep as much as you can.”

The Cats face off with No. 7 Purdue, who defeated No. 10 Oregon 3-1 earlier Sunday night, for a spot in the Final Four. Knocking off the Boilermakers would put Kentucky in the Final Four for the first time in program history. The match broadcast will be available on ESPN2.