The Kentucky volleyball team falls in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 to top seed Texas.
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Despite a valiant effort by a gutsy Kentucky team, the top-seeded Texas Longhorns outlasted the host Wildcats in a thrilling 3-1 (25-23, 22-25, 27-25, 25-23) match to advance to the NCAA Regional Finals in front of a near-capacity crowd of 4,022 fans in Memorial Coliseum.
With the loss the Wildcats conclude their season behind perhaps their best performance of the year. UK closes out the year with an impressive 28-6 overall record. Texas improves to 26-4 and will face UCLA for the right to march on to the NCAA Semi-Finals in San Antonio, Texas, next week.
“People that saw that match, I think that’s about as level of volleyball as you can play,” UK coach Craig Skinner said. “If you aren’t excited to play in front of a crowd like that and with a group that puts there heart and soul into the game then I’d be stunned. We’re on the right path and we have to continue to take steps forward and this team is so motivated that I’m not worried that won’t happen.”
The match featured 52 tie scores and 20 lead swaps combined in the four sets and the teams were evenly matched in nearly every statistical category.
“I didn’t expect it to be as evenly matched as far as statistics,” Skinner said. “I thought we could have done a lot of things defensively, blocking and attacking. The one thing I did not expect tonight was Texas to play the floor defense they did tonight, we hit some rockets and they came up with them and that was probably the difference in the match.”
Four Wildcat players reached double-figures in the kills’ column led by 16 from junior Ashley Frazier. Freshman Lauren O’Conner tallied 13 with seniors Becky Pavan (12) and Ann Armes (11). Junior setter Christine Hartmann passed out 52 assists and added three kills of her own as the Wildcats tossed down 13 or more kills in every set.
Junior libero Stephanie Klefot tallied 21 digs and has now topped 600 digs for the season and is the first player in UK history to achieve that feat. Sophomore Jessi Greenberg added eight digs with freshman Jackie Napper contributing seven.
The first set featured a back-and-forth battle with Texas scoring the final two points to break a 23-23 tie. The Longhorns struck for a kill and then forced a hitting error by the Blue and White. UK opened the match by hitting .310 with O’Conner jump-starting the match with four kills to lead the way.
Kentucky fired back to capture the second set by a 25-22 score and earn a tie into the locker room at one set apiece. Pavan was unstoppable with eight kills on a near-perfect .833 hitting clip.
A kill from Hartmann broke a 21-21 tie. O’Conner and Pavan then teamed up for back-to-back kills to give the Wildcats a 24-21 edge. The Longhorns saved set-point once before Pavan struck for her fifth kill of the stanza to ignite the raucous crowd.
The third set needed extra-points to determine a winner. With the Longhorns capturing set-point at 24-21, the Wildcats scored the next three points to tie the score at 24. O’Conner struck for a kill and then sliced the defense with her serve. Frazier smacked her third kill of the frame to knot the score. After UK saved set point once again at 25-25, the Longhorns were able to break loose for back-to-back kills and take the hotly-contested set 27-25.
The fourth frame was much of the same between the two squads with the set going down to the wire. Frazier tied the score at 22 apiece, but the Longhorns would go on to score three of the final four points to advance to the Regional Finals for the third consecutive season.
Frazier struck for six kills in the set and Klefot posted seven digs as the Wildcats attempted to keep the match alive.
Texas will take on UCLA on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET in Memorial Coliseum for the right to move on to the national semi-finals. The Bruins knocked off four-time defending champion Penn State in decisive fashion with a 3-0 sweep to move on to the final eight.