Missed opportunities prove fatal for Cats


UK’s Gretchen Giesler attempts the kill against Michigan State during the first round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament at Memorial Coliseum on Friday, Dec. 4, 2009. The Cats defeated the Spartans in three sets to advance to the second round. Photo by Scott Hannigan

The UK volleyball team had its fair share of chances over the weekend.

The Cats were right in the thick of it in both of its matches.

But in the end, the Cats were unable to come out on top in either match, falling to South Carolina this past Friday night and then to Florida on Sunday afternoon.

The Cats (11-12, 5-7 SEC) lost a tightly contested match to the Gamecocks, 25-21, 25-23, 29-27. Despite losing in straight sets, UK was able to keep the match close from start to finish. Having beaten the Gamecocks in straight sets in September at the start of conference play, and knowing his team missed golden opportunities to win the match, the loss was a tough one for UK head coach Craig Skinner to swallow.

“The South Carolina match was tough,” Skinner said. “We missed a lot of opportunities at the end of games. We have to start closing out games at home and especially on the road if we want to make things happen as a team. But give South Carolina credit, they played well that night.”

The next stop for the Cats was Gainesville, Fla., home of the Florida Gators. Florida, currently the No. 1 team in the nation and the leader atop the current Southeastern Conference standings, presented UK with perhaps the toughest challenge of the season thus far. It was the Cats’ third match this season against a top-5 opponent, and that experience showed in the first two sets of the match, both of which were closely contested. UK was unable to corral either of those sets in their favor, and lost its second consecutive match in straight sets, 25-21, 28-26, 25-13.

“We played pretty well in the first two games,” Skinner said. “We had a couple of chances at the end of the second game to change the momentum of the match in our favor, but we were unable to win the points we needed to, and Florida picked up the momentum from those points and carried it into game three. We had our chances in that match and just couldn’t finish.”

For the Cats, the back-to-back losses halted a brilliant three-match win streak, and dropped UK’s conference record back below .500. The Cats’ recent offensive success continued on the road, with senior Blaire Hiler recording 12 kills in the match against South Carolina, and junior Gretchen Giesler recording seven kills and a .636 hitting percentage on the Cats’ front line against the Gators. Going forward, it looks to be UK’s defense that now has catching up to do.

“We have to get better with our serve and defense,” Skinner said. “The offense has been doing well, hitting about .250, but our serve, block, and defense needs to get us some points. When we have the ball at the service line we need to pick up some points to help us out at the end of close sets.”

But beyond offense and defense, UK’s fatal flaw on this road trip was their inability to take advantage of opportunities late in games. Of the six sets they played over the weekend, UK was within four points of the lead at the end of five of those sets, including two sets which required extra points. But the Cats were unable to make the plays necessary to win those close games, which served to be the team’s Achilles heel.

“We have a lot of great players on this team,” Skinner said. “If we want to win those close sets then we all need to believe and make an impact. We just have to go for it at the end of those close games if we want to win them.”