Kentucky advances to regional semifinals after sweeping UNLV


Kentucky Wildcats outside hitter Madi Skinner (2) spikes the ball during the University of Kentucky vs. University of Alabama volleyball game on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-0. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Barkley Truax

Kentucky lived up to their No. 2 overall ranking in their 3-0 sweep over the UNLV Rebels Thursday night in round two of the NCAA tournament. 

It’s been slightly over three weeks since the Wildcats (19-1) took the court for their final regular season game. The Rebels (13-0) weren’t as fresh heading into this one, as less than 24 hours prior to tip-off, UNLV defeated Illinois State in four sets in the first round of the tournament.

“We’ve been training eight months for this. . . adrenaline was pumping and we were just excited to be on the court,” freshman Madi Skinner said post game. 

Set one began just as Kentucky drew it up – gain the lead early and keep adding to it; something they’ve done as well as any team all season long. UNLV’s undefeated attitude was apparent in the first, bringing the game to within four points late in the set but Kentucky’s length and athleticism proved too much early on, defeating the Rebels 25-16 in set one. 

“UNLV only gave up three unforced errors in the first set, so we had to earn 22 of them,” head coach Craig Skinner said after the victory.

The Skinner sisters, Avery and Madi finished the set with a combined eight kills on 10 attempts. Alli Stumler had four kills in seven total attempts as well.

UNLV came out guns blazing in the second set, getting off to an early 5-3 lead, knowing a loss in set two would force their backs against the wall against the No. 2 Wildcats. Back and forth the two teams went as neither team could find more than a one point advantage until Madi Skinner’s stellar defense came through with a block assist followed by an ace from Gabby Curry, giving the Wildcats a three-point edge. 

Kentucky never looked back, leading for the rest of the set as they came out victorious in set two, 25-19, 2-0 overall. Madison Lilley recorded 29 assists for the Wildcats through two sets, leading all players on the night heading into the third. UNLV’s Arien Fafard was second on the assist leader board with 11 after the second.

Facing their first 0-2 start to a game this season, UNLV played with desperation to begin the third. Five straight points for Kentucky gave the Wildcats the 7-3 advantage early in the set, and kept their foot on the gas for the remainder of the game, finishing off the sweep and handing the Rebels their first loss of the season, 25-18.

Kentucky finished with 50 kills with 13 errors on 79 total attempts. The Skinner sisters had 11 kills a piece, Stumler had 10 as well. Lilley finished with 44 assists to lead all players.

“Madi Skinner hits at a different level and forces the defense to guard the whole net,” Coach Skinner said. The freshman ace was responsible for 13 points to lead all players for both teams.

The No. 2 Wildcats will play the winner of No. 15 Washington State and Western Kentucky on Sunday, April 18 in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.