Fans treated to a treat as volleyball sweeps Auburn


Junior middle blocker Becky Pavan spikes a ball toward Arkansas defenders in their match last year. UK won the match 3 – 0. Photo by Scott Hannigan

Hundreds of Wildcat fans poured into Memorial Coliseum on Sunday for a Halloween treat as the UK volleyball team prepared to take on the Auburn Tigers. And a treat is what they got.

The Cats rallied from deficits in the second and third sets on their way to a thrilling straight set victory 25-16, 26-24, 25-23. The victory followed a win Friday night over the Georgia Bulldogs, earning UK a weekend sweep at home.

“It was really important for us to come back and win this week,” senior Lauren Rapp said. “We had a tough week of practice and I think we will have another tough week this week, and we will just have to use our momentum from this past week to keep going.”

The Cats started the weekend with a matchup with the always tough Georgia Bulldogs. The Cats defeated the Dawgs in straight sets 25-20, 25-12, 25-17. Defense was the story of the match as UK accounted for 15.5 blocks in only three sets, dominating the net all night long. Five players accounted for at least three blocks, including Rapp, Whitney Billings, Blaire Hiler, Becky Pavan, and Gretchen Giesler, who led the team with three solo blocks and three block assists.

The Cats followed up with another win over Auburn on Sunday. In a back and forth match, UK jumped out to an early 7-0 lead in the first set and won the set without every relinquishing that lead. In the second set however, UK fell behind 22-15 late, before going on an incredible 11-2 run to close out the set. UK rallied again in the third set to win the match.

“I think finishing off sets has been (a weakness) in the past,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said.

“We have been very close in some sets that we lost. We didn’t close the deal and that was an obstacle we crossed today by finishing out those last two sets in very tight situations. I’m proud of our upperclassmen, they are really stepping up. Blaire (Hiler), Lauren Rapp, and Anne Armes were big at the end of games two and three.”

Early in the season, the Cats had trouble coming out to begin matches, and often fell behind early, costing them victories throughout the year. But on Sunday, the tables were turned. UK came out on fire and Auburn was seemingly unable to react and regroup. That momentum swing early proved invaluable to the Cats as they rallied from deficits in the final two sets on their way to victory.

“When you start like that it builds confidence,” Skinner said. “You feel like no matter how the match goes from that point on that you have an opportunity to score points. We really did that at the end of game two and the end of game three so I think that start helped give us some of that confidence.”

“It’s really important (to start well). It sets the tone for the rest of the match and everything that we do,” Rapp said. “(The match shows) just how mentally tough you have to be in volleyball and how strong we are as a team to not just roll over and let them win each game when we are down. We always keep fighting.”

Now the Cats will take their show on the road once again next weekend as they travel to Mississippi State and Alabama. The road has proven unkind to the Cats (13-11, 7-7 SEC) this season, as they post a lowly 2-8 record outside of Memorial Coliseum. But UK hopes that the emotional victory over Auburn can help them turn last weekend’s success into an SEC winning streak.

“When you are competing at the end of seasons and competing to be in the NCAA tournament and against teams who want to be in the NCAA tournament, you have to be good defensively,” Skinner said. “That was very big for us this weekend and has to be big for us again this week coming up against Mississippi State. Right now our biggest rival is Mississippi State and that’s next Friday.”