WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Kentucky volleyball team’s season came to a conclusion at the hands of No. 1 Penn State on Friday in West Lafayette, Ind., by way of a 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-12) score. Junior Whitney Billings led the way with eight kills and nine digs for the Wildcats who advanced to their second-straight Sweet 16 under the direction of eighth-year head coach Craig Skinner.
The Blue and White were among just nine teams in the nation making their second-consecutive appearance in the round of 16 and the senior class finishes as the only in one in program history to move to the round of 16 in the national tournament in three of four seasons.
“Hats off to Penn State, they were awfully good tonight,” Skinner said. “I thought they played better tonight than they had the past couple of weeks. The margin of error is pretty small when you get to this point in the tournament … You really need to get one of those first two games to go in the locker room with a little bit of momentum.”
Kentucky’s year finishes at 22-11 overall, while the Nittany Lions stretch their record to an impressive 32-2 on the year.
Senior Stephanie Klefot had a team-high 11 digs and added a pair of assists as she finishes her career as one of the most decorated athletes in program history. Classmates Christine Hartmann closed out with 25 assists and Ashley Frazier had seven kills.
Junior Alexandra Morgan logged five kills and had a team-best three blocks. Sophomore Lauren O’Conner had four kills and freshman Kayla Tronick contributed three. Junior Jessi Greenberg had three digs and sophomore Jackie Napper added two.
Penn State captured a 25-18 victory in the opening frame behind 16 kills in the stanza. UK logged eight kills and benefited from four PSU service errors and a trio of blocks.
The Lions scored the first two points of the match before UK tallied its first point on a Nittany Lion service error. Morgan and Hartmann teamed up for a block to make the score 5-3 in favor of the designated home team before UK scored the next two points highlighted by a kill from Morgan to knot the score at five apiece. The Wildcats earned their largest lead of the set at 13-9 following back-to-back kills from Billings. Penn State fought back and tied things at 17 before finishing the set on an 8-1 run for the match’s first victory.
Frazier got hot in the second set and led the way with four kills, but it was not enough as the Lions went ahead 2-0 into the break following a 25-21 second set win. Penn State managed just eight kills, but capitalized on 10 hitting errors by the Blue and White.
The Wildcats led 2-1 early in the set following a Morgan-Hartmann team on a block. Penn State roared back to take an 8-4 edge. Kentucky would not go away, however, and fought back to tie the score at 10 all on a kill from Billings. The Lions again garnered a four-point edge at 19-15, but the Wildcats would mount a 6-3 run and come within one at 22-21 highlighted by a pair of sizzling kills from Frazier. Penn State stole back the momentum on an erroneous attack by the Cats and the Lions scored the stanza’s final three points to earn the win.
Billings paced the attack in the final set with four kills, but Penn State would finish the sweep with a 25-12 set victory. Penn State totaled a match-high .565 hitting clip and scored 13 points off kills in the final frame.
Consecutive kills from O’Conner and Billings lifted UK to a 2-1 lead that stretched to 4-2 on a kill from Frazier. Penn State responded to tie the score at four and claimed the lead on the very next point. The Lions would never look back en route to the 25-12 win.
Kentucky returns all but three players to the 2013 squad including two-time first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection in Billings.