UK volleyball fights for Final Four spot


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky players celebrate during the No. 3 Kentucky vs. WKU volleyball match in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 3-0. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Following its sweeping victory over No. 6 Western Kentucky on Dec. 2, Kentucky volleyball is set to travel to Palo Alto for the Regional Finals hosted by Stanford, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

The Wildcats entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed, being crowned co-SEC champions after sweeping South Carolina to wrap up the regular season. In fact, since suffering a defeat against Florida in Gainesville on Nov. 19, the Wildcats have yet to concede a single set, recording a revenge sweep against Florida, two sweeps over South Carolina and sweeping both Loyola Chicago and the aforementioned Hilltoppers in the NCAA Tournament.

Now into the Regional Finals, the Wildcats first have a date against No. 2 San Diego while the No. 1 seed, Stanford, faces off against No. 5 Houston.

Similar to how the matchups worked in Lexington, the winners of both matches will have a short turnaround with just one day of rest before the official Regional Final match.

Looking deeper at Kentucky’s first regional opponent, No. 2 San Diego, the Toreros earned a No. 2 seed with a 27-1 record, only losing at No. 1 seed Louisville in five sets back in early September.

San Diego conquered Northern Colorado 3-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before taking down No. 7 seeded Washington State in the second round.

The Wildcats and Toreros only have one mutual opponent in the form of Louisville, with both results being the same as Kentucky also came up short in five sets just under two weeks after the Cardinals gave San Diego the same treatment.

Looking at how San Diego’s other NCAA Tournament-level opponents fared, fellow WCC schools No. 7 BYU, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine all found themselves knocked out in the first two rounds.

Both LMU and Pepperdine bowed out in the first round, with Loyola being swept by No. 3 Oregon and the Waves being taken down in four four sets by No. 1 Stanford.

Looking at San Diego’s other tournament-level opponents, three of the four remain active in the tournament, including Louisville.

No. 2 Pittsburgh, who San Diego defeated 3-2, is set to square off against No. 3 Florida after sweeping Colgate and BYU in the prior rounds.

Similarly, No. 3 Ohio State, which the Toreros swept, is set to face off against No. 2 Minnesota after sweeping Tennessee State and No. 6 USC in the prior rounds.

Looking further ahead past San Diego to a potential Regional Final matchup, the Wildcats have several mutual opponents with both Stanford and Houston.

The Cardinal of Stanford have a combined record of 5-1 against opponents that UK holds a record of 3-4 against. Stanford defeated Florida, which Kentucky finished the season 1-1 against, both teams fell short to Louisville, the Cardinal defeated Nebraska while Kentucky was swept by the Cornhuskers, both teams defeated USC, though Stanford did it twice and the host team swept LSU in the postseason, a team that UK finished 1-1 against.

Moving over to Houston, the Cougars hold a record of 4-0 against teams that Kentucky finished 5-1 against. The Cougars defeated LSU, similar to Stanford, swept Alabama, which Kentucky defeated in four sets, conquered Mississippi State and defeated Auburn in the NCAA Tournament, a team in which UK recorded consecutive sweeps over.

Regardless of which two teams Kentucky faces off against assuming it advances, as more and more teams are knocked out of the postseason the harder and harder the competition level becomes.

Whether or not UK will punch its ticket into the Final Four for the first time since winning the National Championship in early 2021 is yet to be seen, but the path there continues this Thursday.

The matchup against No. 2 San Diego is set to begin at 8 p.m. EST on Dec. 8 and will air live on ESPNU.