Kentucky ready to face UNLV in second round of NCAA Tournament


UK attempts to block a kill 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

Braden Ramsey

It has been 22 days since UK Volleyball last took the court, and eleven days since they found out they had achieved the best NCAA Tournament seed in program history. Tonight, it’s finally time for them to grace the hardwood once more, against the Rebels of UNLV in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

With the higher seed comes greater expectations. The Cats have never made the tournament’s Final Four, but would be anticipated to make the championship game if chalk played out. When head coach Craig Skinner spoke with the media on Tuesday afternoon, he mentioned that the upperclassmen on this team have been saddled with such things for their entire career, but that it comes with the territory.

“This group of seniors… [has] been dealing with that for a few years now,” he said. “Is there pressure? Absolutely… I think that’s a privilege our players have wanted and want to be a part of.”

The initial round of the tournament is typically hosted by seeded schools, who get the advantage of playing on their home turf against the (assumed) lesser competition they’re matched up with. This year, that isn’t the case. The entire 48-team field – which has already been trimmed to 32 – is in Omaha, Ne. for the event’s totality. As a result, there is a different aura around this edition; one of the unknown.

“To be honest with you, no one really knows exactly what to expect tomorrow, what to expect when we see the venue, all that stuff,” Skinner said. ‘“I think there’s some anxious moments… “what is this going to be like? Is this going to be like a club tournament like we were in in high school, or is it going to be an event?”’

“There are so many different emotions going on, you’re not sure what to focus on. But once we get in the gym, that’s going to be the excited part.”

Today, Kentucky’s attention span is solely on the Mountain West conference champions that stand in the path between them and greatness.

UNLV and the rest of its conference didn’t start play until Feb. 4, electing as a group to not begin action until the spring. The Rebels ran roughshod through its conference foes, dropping only six sets on the way to a 12-0 regular season record. They didn’t drop a set in their final four regular season matches, and lost only one in their 3-1 first round victory over Illinois State last night, moving to 13-0 with the win.

Like Kentucky, UNLV is home to both the Mountain West Coach of the Year (Dawn Sullivan) and Conference Player of the Year (Mariena Hayden). Hayden, a senior out of , recorded 17 kills and nine digs against the Redbirds.

Three other Rebels earned all-conference stats. Kate Brennan and Macy Smith both joined Hayden on the first team, while Shelby Capllonch was an honorable mention. Capllonch had a tremendous night versus Illinois State, tallying eight kills and a whopping 24 digs. Brennan totaled nine kills in yesterday’s contest.

Kentucky and UNLV square off tonight at 7:00 p.m. E.T. on ESPN3 and the ESPN app. The winner will face the winner of No. 15 Washington State and Western Kentucky on Sunday, Apr. 18, at a time to be announced.