Armes, core of young players lift Cats pass Eagles

Going into their match against Morehead State Tuesday night, UK already had a good feel for its opponent.

Thanks to a preseason scrimmage, where the Cats dominated the Eagles, UK felt pretty confident heading into its rematch.

The Cats (3-1) took the first set in dominating fashion before Morehead State (3-1) brought the Cats back to earth.

“We’re not where we should be,” freshman outside hitter Ann Armes said. “(Rallying) teaches us how we should play. We have to learn from it.”

UK rebounded, winning in four sets over the Eagles (25-16, 22-25, 25-23, 25-11).

The Cats used strong defensive play and an aggressive offense to make quick work of the Eagles in that first set. After falling down 3-0 at the beginning of the set, the Cats used a 6-0 run to take the lead, and never looked back. Armes led the Cats in the first set with a .750 hitting percentage, including three kills.

“We dominated early, but Morehead really stepped up in the second set,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “The third was close and the fourth we dominated again. I’m really pleased with how we put them away in the fourth.”

The Eagles didn’t back down in the second set, however. Down 13-5, Morehead State rallied behind clutch hitting and errors in execution by the Cats to rally off a 12-0 run and take a 17-13 lead in the set.

The seesaw of momentum wasn’t over, though. Down 20-15, senior middle blocker Queen Nzenwa took the game into her own hands.

Behind Nzenwa’s back-to-back kills, the Cats rallied off a 6-1 run of their own to tie it at 21. Sensing that his team was coming undone late in the set, Morehead State head coach and UK graduate Jaime Gordon called a timeout to settle down his squad. The Eagles then rallied off three straight points with the set-point capped off a ferocious spike by Kaitlin Craven, a sophomore outside hitter.

“We were pressing a little bit,” Skinner said. “Our focus and determination was lacking.”

The third set was hard fought throughout, with neither team really establishing dominance. With the score tied at 16, Armes rose to the occasion once again with back-to-back crucial points to make it 18-16. Following two straight kills by sophomore outside hitter Sarah Mendoza later in the set, the Cats found themselves up 24-21 with match point on the line. The Eagles didn’t back down, though, scoring two straight points to pull in closer. But Mendoza closed the door with one more powerful kill to give the Cats a 2-1 set lead.

“You have to come back and be angry,” Mendoza said. “But it has to be controlled anger. We weren’t pushing each other in the second game. (In the third set) we came out strong so they couldn’t come back on us.”

The fourth set was a mirror image of the dominance the Cats showed in the first set, as they won the set by 14 points. Armes continued to play well and added on to the stellar play the young freshmen have shown this season. Armes finished the game with 11 kills and a .429 hitting percentage, good enough for 16 points.

“We have a great freshman class in right now,” Skinner said. “I think day-by-day (Armes) finds what she’s really about.”