UK Volleyball upsets No. 4 Minnesota in Bluegrass Battle



By Kyle Arensdorf | Volleyball beat writer

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UK volleyball upset No. 4 University of Minnesota in five sets (25-18, 22-25 25-19, 23-25, 15-8) Saturday night behind 25 kills by senior Whitney Billings.

“We were very aggressive tonight and followed the game plan to a ‘T,’ ” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “Players just stepped up and made plays, and you have to make good individual plays to beat good teams, and that’s what we did tonight.”

UK (6-3) jumped out to an early 3-1 lead in the first set, aided by a kill by junior outside hitter Lauren O’Conner. The set was knotted before a three-point run put the No. 19 Cats on top, 14-11. The lead grew to four points, forcing

Minnesota (8-1) to call a timeout at 18-14. Billings recorded her seventh kill of the set and gave UK a 23-16 lead. The Cats reached match point off of an O’Conner kill and finished with another kill by Billings.

Billings reached double-digit kills early in the second set, tying the score at 4-4. Both teams made small runs throughout the middle-stages of the second set, no team growing more than three points apart from the other, until a Minnesota run made the score 19-17 and provoked a Cats timeout. With the score tied at 21-21, Minnesota went on a 4-1 run, taking the second set, 25-22, and tying the match at one set apiece.

The third set was another back-and-forth affair early until the Cats went on a six-point run to take a 14-8 lead. Billings’ 15th kill brought the score to 17-11 in UK’s favor, and after another point by the Cats off of a Minnesota error, Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon was forced to call a timeout. The timeout did not thwart the Cats’ attack, however, as they went on a 6-2 run to reach set point at 24-13. UK finished off the third set after six Minnesota points, 25-19. O’Conner led the way in the third set with five kills to bring her total for the game to 13.

Two early attack errors by freshman outside hitter Anni Thomasson put UK in a quick 6-4 deficit in the fourth set. Minnesota opened up a 21-14 lead, but a seven-point UK run tied the score at 21-21. The Cats could not maintain their run, though, as they fell to Minnesota in the set, 25-23, despite five more kills by Billings.

Kills by Thomasson and Billings gave UK a 3-2 lead in the deciding fifth set. A bad set by Minnesota grew the UK lead to 6-2. Billings 25th kill of the match continued the Cats’ run at 8-3. Thomasson’s fourth kill of the set gave UK a 12-5 lead. The Cats finished the match on a 12-6 run, winning the set and securing the upset.

The Cats were swept in three sets (24-26, 18-25, 23-25) by Pepperdine University on Friday, snapping UK’s five-game win streak.

“It was just a disappointing performance,” Skinner said Friday. “We just weren’t ready to go, had a lead in game one, 16-12, and from that point on weren’t focused, weren’t competing, and Pepperdine did the right things to win the match.”

Junior outside hitter Katie Messing led Pepperdine with 14 kills. O’Conner was the kill leader for the Cats with 11.

The Cats will be back in action on Saturday at 3 p.m. as they take on Lipscomb University in Nashville.