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No. 22 Kentucky volleyball falls 3-0 to Tennessee Volunteers at home

Kentucky libero Molly Tuozzo hits the ball during the Kentucky vs. LSU volleyball match on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 3-1. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Staff

No. 22 Kentucky volleyball fell to the No. 14 Tennessee Lady Volunteers 3-0 in a dominant showing that left the Cats unable to win a set in the absence of leading scorer Reagan Rutherford.

It was the first time Tennessee had beaten the Wildcats since 2017 and its first sweep of UK since 2010. Kentucky is now 3-7 on the year and 1-1 in SEC play. 

The Vols stifled the Cats offense, holding them to .134 hitting. Kentucky managed to lead for a total of seven points for the entirety of the match with its largest lead being three points. 

While no Wildcats reached double digit kills, Eleanor Bleavin led Kentucky with 18 digs, Megan Wilson and Elise Goetzinger led the team in kills with eight a piece and Emma Grome had the highest hit percentage at .333.

The first set would start evenly as Azhani Tealer and Jordyn Williams would start strong, giving Kentucky life early. 

Freshman Brooklyn DeLeye would cut the lead to two with a score of 7-5, adding to her five kills in the match. 

Elise Goetzinger would then heat up and tie the game at 10, as the set would be kept close with defensive help from Molly Tuozo and her seven digs and service ace that cut the Vols’ lead to one.

With a score of 16-15, the Vols were forced into their first timeout. 

The set would remain a nailbiter with strong defensive contributions from Eleanor Beavin who also had seven digs during the set. 

A 3-0 UK run encapsulated by a Tealer block would hold the Vols at game point, putting the score at 24-23. The next point would be won by Tennessee on a touch of the block, giving Tennessee the opening win in a defensive battle, 25-23.

The Cats’ offense would sputter at the beginning of the second set, trailing 9-4 early. With little improvement in the coming sets, UK would call their first timeout, trailing 11-6 in an attempt to stop the bleeding. 

It would take some time, especially after Kentucky’s ninth hitting error pushed Tennessee’s lead up to six, but Tuozo would hit an impressive service run to put the Cats back in the game and cut the lead to two. 

Things would go back and forth for a time, with outside hitters swinging for the fences for both teams out of the timeout. 

Tennessee’s offensive firepower would eventually prove too much for Kentucky as it would pull away 21-16, forcing a UK timeout to once again try to regroup and get back in the game. 

Yet, the Cats would fail to fully recover and lose their second set 25-18.

Kentucky would finally take a lead in the third set after a 3-0 run capped off by two consecutive blocks, one from Tealer and one from Goetzinger, putting the score at 3-1. 

Tennessee would take a very early timeout to stop UK’s sudden offensive surge. It didn’t take long for the Lady Vols to fire back and tie the game at four with Tennessee’s Lovett securing her tenth kill of the game. 

The Vols would go on a 3-0 run and after trading blows, Tennessee would find itself with a 10-9 lead. 

The Cats needed life, and they found it with Tuozo’s 3-0 service run, giving UK its largest lead of any set in the match since the opening of the first set when it was 4-1.

Just as UK seemingly had all the momentum going forward, it was immediately lost as the Cats began to drown in their own mistakes, with numerous blocking and attack errors.

Both teams would furiously fight for the lead, trading blows until it was tied at 17. 

Unfortunately for the Cats, a 6-0 run by Tennessee gave the Vols a 23-17 lead. Kentucky would attempt to fire back, but to no avail.

The Lady Vols would win the set 25-18, sweeping the Wildcats. 

Kentucky will look to bounce back when it hits the road on Friday, Sept. 29, to take on the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia, at 7 p.m. EST.

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