Kentucky sweeps South Carolina, wins share of SEC Championship


Kentucky Wildcats outside hitter Alli Stumler (17) celebrates with Kentucky Wildcats setter Emma Grome (4) during UK’s home opener against Northern Iowa on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-0. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Drew Johnson, Reporter

Kentucky volleyball swept South Carolina on Saturday to secure a sixth consecutive SEC Championship, finishing the regular season with a 15-3 record in conference play.

The Wildcats showed off their offensive depth in the regular season finale with three different Cats hitting double digit kill totals.

Senior Azhani Tealer followed up her record-setting performance in the previous match with another good showing, recording 16 kills with a .520 hitting percentage. She also added two blocks for a well-rounded effort to secure the championship.

Adanna Rollins and Reagan Rutherford followed suit with 11 kills each while sophomore setter Emma Grome also put together a good performance, recording 44 assists and leading the offense to a combined .366 hitting percentage.

South Carolina was ahead for most of the first set, even holding a 13-9 lead at one point, but Tealer and Rollins would spark a 5-0 run to propel the Cats to a 14-13 lead.

The two teams would go back and forth until Kentucky was eventually able to fend off a late run by South Carolina to secure the set one victory.

The Gamecocks would again shoot out to an early lead in the second set, eventually getting to a 15-11 lead before, once again, Kentucky stormed back with a long run, this time 6-0, to make it 17-15 UK.

That said, the Wildcats were unable to secure the set win in just 25 points, giving up a 4-0 run at their 24th point to make it 24-25 in favor of South Carolina. The two went back and forth until a final 3-0 run by the Wildcats finally gave UK the two-point advantage to win the set.

With the SEC Championship just one set-win away, Kentucky made the third set much less dramatic than the first two.

The Cats jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first three points and never let the Gamecocks take a lead, cruising to a 25-16 win capitalized by a 5-1 run to finish the game.

Kentucky guaranteed a share of the SEC title with Florida with the win over South Carolina, with a Florida loss meaning the Cats would win the title outright.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, Florida would go on to beat Ole Miss 3-2, meaning the Gators and Wildcats share the SEC title. Florida won the head-to-head points tiebreaker to get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, although Kentucky all but guaranteed an at-large bid.

The win showcased Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner’s consistency during his tenure in Lexington, marking the 15th season of his 18-year career at Kentucky in which the Wildcats notched over 20 wins in the regular season.

The team now awaits the decision of the NCAA selection committee to decide who their next opponent is and what the team’s future holds in the NCAA Tournament.