No. 3 Kentucky volleyball sweeps Loyola Chicago to advance to second round of NCAA Tournament


Isabel McSwain

The Wildcats celebrate during the No. 3 Kentucky vs. Loyola Chicago volleyball match in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-0. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

No. 3 Kentucky volleyball swept Loyola Chicago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, advancing to the Round of 32 for the sixth consecutive time.

The Wildcats entered the tournament as a No. 3 seed, being crowned co-SEC champions alongside Florida, though it was the Gators who ultimately took the auto-bid.

Earning hosting rights, Kentucky had the ability to watch as No. 6 Western Kentucky swept Bowling Green prior to its matchup, with the Hilltoppers earning the right to face the winner of Kentucky’s matchup.

The first set against the Ramblers was a back-and-forth battle as, barring a single 4-0 scoring run by the Wildcats, neither team was able to record a scoring run higher than two points.

Despite that, Kentucky steadily pulled away throughout the course of the set with senior Adanna Rollins putting the final nail in the coffin with a kill that resulted in a 25-17 Wildcat score line.

“I think you saw the intensity of her (Rollins) from the beginning of the match,” Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner said. “She was ready to go, and I think when you see a teammate with that type of urgency and intensity (it plays a role). She’s been in big matches before, and she likes these moments. I’m proud of her for the way she came out to play tonight.”

The first set winner was far from Rollins’ only contribution for the night though, with the former Penn State Nittany Lion leading all athletes in the match in kills with 15.

As a team Kentucky recorded just one more attack than Loyola Chicago (108-107), but outkilled the Ramblers 52-33, a testament to the finishing ability of Skinner’s squad.

“We had a lot of balance offensively with nine kills, nine kills, eight kills, 11 kills and 15 kills from the five starters,” Skinner said. “I felt we did a good job keeping them off balance. Adonna got us going and then people continued to step up as the match went on.”

No time was this more evident than in the second set, which featured by far the most lopsided final score of the three sets as Kentucky came out on top 25-14.

It was Loyola Chicago who drew first blood in the second set, but a quick 10-2 run by Kentucky put the Ramblers in a dire situation.

Loyola Chicago refused to back down but another 8-0 scoring run by the Wildcats amped up the pressure even more.

While the Ramblers were able to get back into a rhythm and battle with Kentucky, it was far too little and far too late as the set was ultimately finished off with a kill by Kentucky junior Reagan Rutherford.

The Ramblers had seven attacking errors in the second set, which added up to almost half of their nightly total of 16.

On that end, the Ramblers recorded more attacking errors than Kentucky and allowed Kentucky four service aces, but Kentucky was not infallible, finishing the night with more service errors, recording seven in the match.

Kentucky was hopeful to finish the sweep with another dominant showing in the third set, but Loyola Chicago once again refused to back down, limiting Kentucky’s scoring runs to no higher than three points.

The Ramblers fought, even getting as close as scoring 20 points in the third set, but it was once again Rollins who shut the door on Loyola Chicago’s 2022 season and extended Kentucky’s in the process.

Now hoping to right the wrongs of one year ago, Kentucky is faced with an opportunity to advance into the Sweet 16 for the first time since the Wildcats hoisted the National Championship in the 2020-2021 season.

“Once it gets to the tournament there’s not a next game if you lose,” SEC Player of the Year Emma Grome said. “I think it’s definitely going through our minds like how we do everything we can to get through the team at hand and then focus on the next one.”

The match against Western Kentucky is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 2, inside Memorial Coliseum and will also air live on ESPN+.