Volleyball takes on No. 1 Texas on home floor



The UK volleyball team comes back to the Bluegrass with two huge victories in opening round action of the NCAA Tournament. UK beat Dayton and Texas A&M to secure a spot in the Sweet 16. The next matchup for the Cats is against No. 1 overall seed Texas on Friday at 7 p.m.

The game will be played at Memorial Coliseum, as UK will host one of four regionals for the NCAA Tournament. The other two teams in the regional are UCLA and four-time defending champion Penn State, which will square off in the early game at 5 p.m.

“Obviously we have a lot of respect for Texas, not only what they’ve done this year, but the last couple of years,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “We are just excited to play.”

Texas strolls into Lexington with a 24-4 overall record and is making its sixth consecutive regional appearance under head coach Jerritt Elliott. The team is anchored by Big 12 Player of the Year, sophomore outside hitter Bailey Webster. The Longhorns are currently ranked in the top 10 in both hitting percentage and blocks, providing a huge challenge for UK.

“I know coach Elliott’s been around long enough and he respects what we have to do and we respect Texas,” Skinner said. “Everyone’s got to play well. I said a couple of weeks ago, when you get into the tournament it becomes a lot about intangibles, about the team, and bringing your ‘A’ game.”

Texas will also have its hands full, as the Cats have many weapons to deal with. UK is one of the most balanced teams left in the tournament, and recently had three players recognized for their outstanding play thus far in the postseason. Juniors Christine Hartmann and Stephanie Klefot, along with sophomore Whitney Billings, were all named American Volleyball Coaches Association All-South Region for their efforts in the first two tournament victories.

“When you get to this point you hope everyone is firing, but if someone is not, then we can rely on other people,” Skinner said. “That’s a big benefit, and the other benefit is that we have a lot of people capable of keeping the ball off the floor and serving tough to win long rallies.”

This is the first time in school history UK will host the regional with an opportunity to advance in the tournament from home. The players hope crowd support will be a huge factor working against the Longhorns.

“I expect that (the fans) will give us all the momentum we need,” senior middle blocker Ann Armes said. “We play very well at home.”

UK installed what is called a Sport Court for the regional, which is a specialized volleyball surface that the Cats don’t normally use during home games. Some schools in the SEC use the surface, so UK is familiar with it.

“We’ve experienced the Sport Court,” senior middle blocker Becky Pavan said. “In club (volleyball), we played on Sport Court, and we love Sport Court. Of course we love playing on our own floor, but I think the atmosphere is more important than the floor that we are playing on.”

Both Friday games can be viewed online at ESPN3.com. The winners will play 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Coliseum, in a game televised on ESPNU.