UK volleyball takes sixth straight sweep against Tide


Kentucky junior Leah Edmond and freshman Lauren Tharp celebrate a point scored during the game against Mississippi State on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won in the first three sets. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Kentucky volleyball dominated the Alabama Crimson Tide in the closest sweep of their season on Sunday, Nov. 11. The three-set match had the two teams neck-and-neck and fighting for the lead throughout the last two sets, and the Wildcats came out as the victors in the end. Kentucky broke its school record of kills in a three-set match with 62.

“The number of kills speaks volumes about the way our offense was going today,” said head coach Craig Skinner. “We had to. They didn’t give us anything. They had…seven unforced errors. That’s very few in a three-set match.”

The Cats got off to a rocky start, either remaining tied or trailing Alabama throughout the first few minutes. After four kills each from Alli Stumler and Leah Edmond, Kentucky managed to take a shaky 13-10 lead, the largest margin to that point in the set.

Becoming more long-winded in the rallies against the Crimson Tide, the Wildcats continued to slowly gain more momentum. Alabama kept on pace with the Cats throughout the remainder of the set, never allowing them to take too much of a lead. Through longer rallies and increased effort, Kentucky slowly widened the scoring gap beyond what the Crimson Tide could keep up. The Wildcats claimed victory in the first set as the Crimson Tide managed 16 points.

“We have so many options, and that really opens it up for everyone,” Edmond commented about the diversity in scorers. “It kind of messes with people’s defenses.”

Claiming the first six points of the second set, Kentucky proved that they wanted to keep their SEC record unblemished. Alabama was quick to respond, challenging an error call that sent the Tide on a run. After one service and one attack error, their attempt to close in on Kentucky seemed unsuccessful.

The roles from the first set flipped in set two. Alabama dominated early on in set one, but they brought the heat of their offense halfway through set two and managed to narrow the gap between them and Kentucky, trailing by only three. The Cats owned the first half of the set, but now had a competitive match to play. The teams went back and forth, but after two attack errors from the Cats, Alabama tied the set at 15.

Kentucky’s offense began putting extra strength behind kills, but with each point they scored, Alabama followed up with a point of their own, eventually taking the lead at 18-17. Kentucky responded quickly, netting five kills in a row, thanks to Edmond, Stumler, and Caitlyn Cooper. Three blocks in two long rallies had the Cats playing at the end of the set mirroring how they did in the beginning, and they took the second set 25-19.

“We were much better defensively in the second set,” Skinner said. “You see [Gabby Curry’s] dig numbers, but her serve-receive numbers are as good as any passer we’ve had in the program. She’s playing as well as any libero in the country.”

Alabama brought it back at the start of set three, leading by a small margin through the early minutes. The Cats never let them get too far ahead, with crushing kills and surprising two-touch plays. Kentucky briefly tied the set at 10-10, and continued to even the score each time the Tide scored. With a serving ace by Merideth Jewell, Kentucky took the lead for the first time in set three.

UK struggled to hold onto any lead in the fifth, as the Tide lead most of the way.

Back-to-back kills from Stumler and Edmond tied the teams back up at 21. Another scoring race began, with Stumler and Cooper being the stars of Kentucky’s offense through the end. At a 23-23 tie, Edmond drove a clean kill to give Kentucky the edge, and Stumler’s final kill awarded the Cats the sweep.

“[Skinner] does a really good job of motivating us and telling us the right things at the right time,” Curry said about the success of Kentucky’s final timeout.  “[At the end] he told us just to play high and play hard.”

Kentucky’s victory was coupled with amazing stats from players all around. Edmond and Lilley both had double-doubles, with Edmond gaining 21 kills and 11 digs, while Lilley managed more assists than the entire Alabama team (45) to go with 11 digs.

Edmond tied her own school record for kills in a three-set match. Cooper had a hit percentage of .733 and Lilley had one of .833. Brooke Morgan scored three successful blocks, and Cooper scored two of her own. Three players had at least ten digs, and five players had at least eight.

This sweep extends the Cats’ streak to 17 and improves their record to 20-4 (14-0 SEC).

The Wildcats’ next matchup will be away against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m.