UK volleyball falls to Nebraska in Sweet 16 sweep


Kentucky freshman Alli Stumler saves a ball from hitting the ground during the match against Murray State in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky defeated Murray State three sets to zero. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Hailey Peters

A rematch from the Elite 8 in the 2017 tournament, the Kentucky Wildcats faced the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament of Friday, Dec. 7 in the Minnesota regional finals. The match resulted in the Cats’ first loss since facing Texas in September, and the Huskers won the match in a sweep (25-17, 25-20, 25-23).

Immediately into the first set, both the Cats and the Huskers proved their skill by going on their own respective 3-0 runs and scoring sharp kills and aces. Nebraska led Kentucky by one or two points throughout the majority of the early minutes, assisted by several service errors on behalf of the Cats. After a 4-0 run made possible by Nebraska’s second ace and Kentucky’s third attack error, the Huskers achieved a strong 11-7 lead in the middle of the set.

Kentucky gained a little bit of steam, showcasing their offensive talent from Madison Lilley, who stunned the Huskers with kills on the second touch of play. Nebraska continued to shut the Cats down, forcing many long rallies that ended in errors from Kentucky’s offense. Although the Cats led the set in kills 12-10, the 12 combined attack and service errors caused them to fall to Nebraska in the first set, with Kentucky scoring 17 points.

The second set began much like the first one ended, with a 4-0 run by the Huskers aided almost entirely by offensive errors from Kentucky. With a hitting percentage less than zero, the Cats trail the Huskers by six points through much of the first half of the set.

Another 4-0 run from Nebraska allowed them to take over as the kill leaders in the match. The Huskers’ powerhouse offense was in part combated by Kentucky’s defense in set two, with two successful back-to-back blocks and almost every single player on UK’s floor scoring a dig for the team.

Leah Edmond’s consecutive kills sent the Cats on their first 3-0 run of the set, and finally brought Kentucky’s hitting percentage into positive numbers. A second 3-0 run piloted by kills from Avery Skinner and Caitlyn Cooper largely narrowed the scoring gap, as Kentucky trailed by only 2 points late in the set. Even with the heavy offensive push from the Cats, Nebraska still came out on top over Kentucky’s 20 points.

Kentucky netted their first lead of the match in the opening of set three. A strong 4-0 run aided by kills from Cooper, Brooke Morgan and Nebraska’s own faulty offense gave the Cats the edge at 10-6 in the middle of the set. The Nebraska team finally tied Kentucky in attack errors in the match.

Nebraska closed in on Kentucky’s lead, going on two 3-0 runs and sending their top two players into double-digit kills. A 3-0 scoring run from the Huskers tied the teams at 23-23, and Kentucky’s lead was diminished. Nebraska’s run extended to 5-0, and Nebraska won the Sweet 16 matchup with a sweep.

The Kentucky offense hut the Cats the first two sets, and the tactful Nebraska offense challenged UK late in the third set, eventually defeating the Wildcats and allowing them an advancement to the tournament’s Elite 8.

This officially ends Kentucky volleyball’s 2018 season, and cuts off their winning streak at 23 matches. No matter the outcome, head coach Craig Skinneris pleased with his players.

“I’m very proud of this group and all thatthey accomplished this season,” Skinner said in a UK press release. “Give a lot of credit to Nebraska. They were able to play very well tonight; but I was proud to represent our athletes and Kentucky today.”