No. 5 Kentucky fall in five sets to South Carolina for first SEC loss


Kentucky Wildcats opposite Reagan Rutherford (10) and middle blocker Azhani Tealer (15) block the ball 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

Cole Parke

No. 5 Kentucky (16-4) fell short on the road 3-2 against South Carolina (13-10) for their first conference loss of the season.

Alli Stumler led the Wildcats with 21 kills while Madi Skinner followed close behind with 19. By the end of the match, Kentucky beat South Carolina in kills 72-56. Despite the victory in kills, the Cats lost the game in errors, recording more attacking errors than South Carolina, and doubling their amount of service errors.

Kentucky struggled from the start of the first set, allowing South Carolina a 5-2 scoring run to start the match. UK was able to fight their way back into it, tying the set at 9, even going on a 4-0 run to put themselves ahead 15-13. 

As the end of the set drew near, both teams found themselves tied at 24. An attacking error by Kentucky’s Emma Grome would be followed by a kill by Manning to give South Carolina a 26-24 win in the first set.

The second set continued to be a close and contentious battle where Kentucky found themselves down 11-14, but a kill by Reagan Rutherford sparked what would ultimately be a 11-0 run for the Wildcats. South Carolina was able to disrupt the run and stay alive, but a kill by Skinner would win the set 25-17 for Kentucky and tie the series at one.

Kentucky would flip the script and take the lead early in the third set, starting the match with a 5-2 scoring run. UK would lead the match for the first and only time when a bad set by South Carolina’s Claire Wilson gave the Wildcats a 25-13 win in the set.

South Carolina responded quickly with the Gamecocks jumping ahead 8-4 early in the fourth set. The Gamecocks did their best to emulate the dominance of Kentucky in the set prior,  quickly finding themselves ahead 20-13. Kentucky tried to fight back with a 4-0 scoring run, but the deficit would prove to be too much to overcome, as a final bad set by Grome ultimately gave South Carolina a 25-20 set win and forced a fifth set.

Despite both teams having dominant sets prior, the fifth set was once again a close battle. Both Kentucky and South Carolina had their respective scoring runs, but found themselves tied in the set on three separate occasions. 

Unfortunately for Kentucky, a kill by Manning would spark a 3-0 run for South Carolina after the Cats tied it at 11. Stumler recorded a kill in an attempt to get Kentucky back into the set, but Manning completed a final kill to give South Carolina the win in the set and the match.

Kentucky stays in Columbia, completing their two game series with South Carolina tomorrow at 7 p.m. That match can be viewed on the SEC Network+.