LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky volleyball team earned its eighth-consecutive bid into the NCAA Tournament and claimed the No. 16 national seed it was announced on Sunday afternoon. Kentucky is slated to host the First and Second Rounds of the tournament in Memorial Coliseum on Friday and Saturday.
The Wildcats will host East Tennessee State at 7:30 p.m. ET with Ohio State and Notre Dame meeting at 5 p.m. ET prior to UK taking the floor on Friday. The second round matchup is slated for 7 p.m. ET on Saturday for a spot in the West Lafayette Regional, Dec. 7-8.
“You never know what to expect,” Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said. “Literally every year I’ve been coaching you never really know exactly what you’re going to get and this is no exception. You know, of course our team is excited and we’re looking forward to playing Friday night. We’re certainly glad we earned enough respect to get seeded and have the opportunity to host.”
Skinner has directed the Wildcats to the field of 64 in all eight seasons as head coach. UK is one of just 14 teams in the nation to advance to the tournament in each of those eight seasons. Kentucky will play host to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the last five seasons and for the 10th time in program history.
“We like playing in our gym,” Skinner said. “We have great fans and a great environment for volleyball. We love the opportunity to play at home. Again, it’s a matter of staying healthy, doing the right things this week, and putting ourselves in a position to have the most success. We were on the road last year and had success and now we get a different opportunity being home, so as I said, we’re looking forward to it.”
Kentucky’s (20-10) opening round matchup will be against the Atlantic Sun Champion East Tennessee State Bucs (23-12). The Bucs earned the league’s automatic bid after defeating North Florida in the championship match. It marks the first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament for ETSU.
The Bucs are paced by 3.96 kills per set from Megan Devine. East Tennessee State averages 12.90 kills per frame as a unit and utilizes a .227 attacking clip. The Bucs also turn away 2.67 opponent attacks per frame with Meredith Hardy leading the way with an average of 1.46 blocks per stanza.
ETSU played a pair of Southeastern Conference foes with both South Carolina and Alabama earning wins over the Bucs. The Gamecocks captured a 3-2 win in the opening weekend of the season and the Crimson Tide claimed a sweep in the third week of the year. UK and the Bucs also faced Lipscomb this year with both squads earning a win over the Bison.
“We can’t look further ahead than our first opponent in East Tennessee State and preparing,” Skinner said. “That’s the way we approached it last year and had a tough five-set match in the first round last year. There’s a lot to learn. The experience of being in the tournament helps. But each year is a new team and a new challenge. Again, great opportunity and we have to take advantage of it.”
The selection is the fourth-straight for Ohio State (22-10), who have reached the Sweet 16 the past two years. Ohio State is 28-18 overall in NCAA play and has advanced to the Final Four twice ('91, '94).
Ohio State is one of seven Big Ten schools selected to the field of 64 after finishing fourth in the Big Ten with a 13-7 record. The Buckeyes have a potent offense averaging 13.61 kills per frame on a .254 clip led by 4.20 kills per set from the hand of Mari Hole. Ohio State also averages 14.34 digs per stanza with Davionna DiSalvatore pacing the defensive unit with 3.99 digs per set.
Ohio State and the Wildcats have two similar opponents on the season as both squads squared off against Oregon and Nebraska. The Buckeyes split a pair of matchups with the Huskers and lost in five sets to Oregon. UK fell to both the Ducks and Nebraska in early season competition.
Notre Dame (20-9) advances to its first NCAA Tournament since 2009. The team won 20 matches for the 19th time in school history and the first since 2009 and finished tied for second during the regular season in the BIG EAST.
The Irish have a pair of attackers averaging more than 3.20 kills per set as Toni Alugbue (3.50) and Jeni Houser (3.27) lead an attack that posts 13.77 kills per frame at a .255 hitting percentage. Notre Dame also averages 2.73 blocks per set with Andie Olson leading the charge with 1.04 per set.
Kentucky and the Irish have faced a pair of similar foes. The Irish also lost to Nebraska in the opening weekend of action, but defeated Louisville in a five-set thriller, a team UK lost in four sets to in the first week of the year.
The Wildcats are one of five teams from the SEC to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas A&M are the other conference teams to advance to the national tournament.
Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the UK volleyball team. For additional coverage of the volleyball squad be sure and check out CatScratchesBlog.com/volleyball.
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