Kentucky volleyball officially begins hunt for second national title


Isabel McSwain

The Wildcats celebrate during the No. 10 Kentucky vs. Tennessee volleyball match on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky volleyball earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament during Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show, officially kicking off the hunt for UK’s second national title.

The Wildcats finished the 2022 campaign 20-7, tying with Florida for a share of the SEC Championship, marking the sixth consecutive conference title for UK.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, the tiebreaker for the automatic bid to the Big Dance favored Florida, meaning the Wildcats would have to get into the tournament with an at-large bid.

The team did just that the next day, earning the No. 3 seed in the bottom left corner of the bracket, first matching up with Loyola Chicago.

The Ramblers finished their 2022 campaign 25-8, claiming the Atlantic-10’s auto-bid into the NCAA Tournament with a win over Dayton in the A10 Championship.

While the two did not face off this season, Loyola Chicago and Kentucky have a number of common opponents that include Dayton, Tennessee and Marquette.

The Wildcats faced Dayton in an exhibition on Aug. 20, winning 3-1 in Ohio, while the Ramblers faced the Flyers a total of three times, finishing with a 2-1 record.

Dayton won its first matchup against Loyola Chicago 3-2 before dropping the second match 3-1, with the A10 Championship being the final meeting.

Both teams also faced Tennessee, with Loyola Chicago losing 3-2 on Aug. 26, while the Wildcats beat the Vols 3-1 on Nov. 16.
Finally, both teams suffered defeats at the hands of Marquette, with Kentucky losing its season opener 3-2 on Aug. 26 and Loyola Chicago losing 3-1 on Sep. 6.

If common opponents is all there is to go off of then the first round matchup may be closer than many expect, though the Wildcats will certainly be favored.

Kentucky boasts a talented roster that includes SEC Player of the Year Emma Grome as well as three other All-SEC Team members in Azhani Tealer, Reagan Rutherford and Adanna Rollins.

Assuming Kentucky is successful against the Ramblers, the Cats would advance to the round of 32, where their tournament run was cut short last season, to face the winner of No. 6 Western Kentucky and Bowling Green.

A win in the quadrant would either see Kentucky travel to No. 2 San Diego in the Sweet 16 or host any of No. 7 Washington State, UNLV or Northern Colorado if the Toreross are upset.

Looking more broadly around the bracket, Kentucky faced off with a whopping 13 NCAA Tournament teams over the course of the regular season, amassing an overall record of 11-6 against tournament-level opponents.

Kentucky lost its season opener to Marquette as previously mentioned, with the Golden Eagles going on to earn a No. 4 seed, before sweeping the Bluejay Invitational against three NCAA Tournament teams.

With the Bluejay Invitational being held in Omaha, Kentucky first swept Northern Iowa before beating the hosts, eventual No. 4 seeded Creighton, 3-1 and finished the job with a sweep against eventual No. 6 seeded USC.

Following that event, Kentucky returned to Lexington, where it was swept by eventual No. 1 seeded Wisconsin and No. 2 seeded Nebraska. In between those matches Kentucky also lost a 3-2 battle against another eventual No. 1 seed: Louisville.

Moving into SEC play, Kentucky split its series with LSU before it eventually traveled to Fayetteville, where it recorded back-to-back wins over eventual No. 6 Arkansas.

The Wildcats also recorded back-to-back sweeps over Auburn before also sweeping Georgia in Athens and defeating Tennessee.

The final tournament caliber opponent the Wildcats faced was the other co-SEC champions, Florida, with both teams sweeping the other on consecutive nights in Gainesville. The Gators, much like the Cats, went on to earn a No. 3 seed.

Whether or not Kentucky will return to the promised land as it did in early 2021 is yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain: when it comes to experience against NCAA Tournament teams, this season’s Kentucky squad ranks near the top.