Classic loss prevents UK sweep

For the past three years, head coach Craig Skinner has been building the UK volleyball team as a budding power, able to contend with all the top programs. After going 2-1 as host of the Kentucky Classic this weekend, the Cats have learned one thing: they’re close, but not close enough.

After downing Pittsburgh and Western Carolina in their first two games, UK was swept by No. 13 Wisconsin (25-21, 25-19, 25-22) at Memorial Coliseum to end the Classic. After playing well to start the tournament, Skinner wasn’t happy with the way his team finished.

“We have a lot of talent, we’re a good team,” Skinner said. “We didn’t show the toughness and the passion that we needed in the championship game, though. We had opportunities in all three games in the championship, but we didn’t capitalize on them. In tournaments like this you find out what you have. There are a lot of things we can be good at. We have grit and toughness, we just didn’t show it in the final.”

Coming in second place used to be a great accomplishment for the Cats, but not anymore. Even with the loss, junior setter Sarah Rumely feels like the close battle against Wisconsin will prepare the team for Southeastern Conference play.

“It was an OK first showing, but we have a long way to go,” Rumely said. “We’re not happy with second place — it’s not good enough for this team. They’re a ranked opponent. They are every bit the type caliber team of the SEC. It will prepare us immensely for teams like Florida and LSU.”

The Cats beat the Panthers on Friday, battling to a fifth set. Down 13-10 in that fifth and final set, Kentucky rose to the occasion and battled back to win the deciding set 21-19. Sophomore outside hitter Sarah Mendoza led the charge for the Cats in the opening match with 18 kills. Mendoza believes that the hard fought match will be beneficial for the remainder of the season, as the Cats now know they can win those type of games.

“We know we have it in us now,” Mendoza said. “We know we can fight back.”

Rumely agrees with Mendoza and believes that this team holds the mental toughness that last year’s team perhaps may have lacked.

“Last year we wouldn’t have won that game,” Rumely said. “This team has lots of toughness, we shouldn’t have been in that situation, but we got out of it.”

The Cats didn’t need the late game heroics in their second match against Western Carolina on Saturday morning. Kentucky swept the Catamounts 3-0 in a match where Kentucky posted at an impressive .350 hitting percentage.

The Cats will play their fourth match of the season against Morehead State on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum.