Curry, Edmond, Lilley lead Cats to second sweep of Mississippi St.


Kentucky sophomore Gabby Curry is greeted by teammates on the bench 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

Hailey Peters

For the second time this season, the Kentucky Wildcats swept the Mississippi State Bulldogs. This time, their sweep ended with “My Old Kentucky Home” playing in Memorial Coliseum.

“Our biggest thing was to be focused with every point,” sophomore libero Gabby Curry and SEC Player and Defensive Player of the Week said. “It’s really, really hard to sweep a team twice, so I think that our coaches did a really good job putting emphasis on being focused and intentional with every touch.”

Kentucky’s offense seemed reckless at the start of set one, with many of their attack attempts ending in both attack and ball-handling errors. The Bulldogs’ offensive ability tested the back line of Kentucky’s defense throughout the beginning. After a close scoring race through the first half of the set, it was unclear if the Cats would add a win to their 49-2 all-time record against Mississippi State.

After the initial half of set one, the Cats shook themselves out of their funk to take a firm 15-11 lead. Through the second half of the set, Kentucky’s lead continued to increase, exhibiting the strength that the SEC powerhouse has become known for.

The Bulldogs still managed to find weak spots in Kentucky’s defense with powerful kills, but Kentucky partially shut them down with line-driving kills, two aces and three blocks. Although long rallies have cost the Cats points in the past, the last two won them the set, 25-15.

“I thought we got better with each set,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “Execution started a little slow, but was really good by the end of [the match].”

Riding the victory from their first set, the Wildcats began the second set much stronger than the first. With more focused serving and varied offensive plays, like Madison Lilley’s set-turned-kill, the Cats won the first four points of the set.

The Bulldogs benefitted from questioning a touch call made by the refs and received a point turnover. As the set progressed, Mississippi State began to close in on Kentucky’s lead with a combination of the Cats’ attack errors and kills that landed in empty corners of the Cats’ side of the net.

The Cats were able to rely on consistent kills from Caitlyn Cooper and Leah Edmond, who had a combined eight kills in the set. Along with Madison Lilley’s 12 assists, the three became a triple threat that led UK past the Bulldogs. Capitalizing on their defensive edge with two blocks, and sporting a .194 hitting percentage, the Bulldogs forced the Cats to think on their feet. Scoring only 17 points in the set, the Bulldogs gave Kentucky a 2-0 set lead.

“Our team really pushed out and did what we had to do to get the job done,” Cooper said. “[Edmond and I] are really close with each other, and I just love when she kills a ball, and she loves when I kill a ball, so it’s just a really good relationship and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Alli Stumler, on a roll with five total kills in the match in the first two sets, started Kentucky off strong in set three. The Cats began targeting empty zones in their opponent’s half of the court and blocking harsh kills at the end of long rallies. Two cross-court kills from Avery Skinner and Brooke Morgan had the Cats doubling the score of the Bulldogs 12-6 halfway through the final set.

Mississippi State’s defense clumsily fought to close the scoring gap, to little avail. The Bulldogs sent many balls into the net and let others land out-of-bounds. Their efforts ended in only widening the scoring gap between the teams, and Kentucky took the sweep with a crushing kill by Skinner as the Bulldogs scored 14 points in the set.

The Cats were piloted to victory by Edmond, who notched 10 kills, Cooper, who scored eight and Lilley, who managed 34 assists. Curry picked up 22 digs, and Stumler shocked the opposing team with five serving aces to support the trio. This match extends Kentucky’s win streak to 16, their longest under Craig Skinner, and their record improves to 19-4 (13-0 in SEC). This is Kentucky’s 12th sweep and fifth in a row.

“Because we did do a really good job [at Mississippi State], very focused and playing extremely well,” Skinner said. “And I thought we did a really nice job of staying focused even though we know the result from the previous match, and I think that’s a sign of a competitively mature team.”

The Wildcats return to the court on Sunday at 1:30 p.m., when they will face Alabama at home.