UK Volleyball falls in Elite 8
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – In perhaps their gutsiest effort to date, the No. 6 Kentucky volleyball team fell just short in a 3-1 (19-25, 22-25, 27-25, 22-25) loss to No. 5 Nebraska in front of 4,464 fans in Memorial Coliseum in the Regional Semifinals. UK staved off three match points in the third set to force a fourth frame and continued to rally to the very end.
“I’m just really proud to have been able – with myself and our staff – to be able coach this team, and they did everything right,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “You struggle to find the words at the end of a season to make it feel right, but everybody in that locker room knows what they’ve done and how proud they should be.”
With the loss, Kentucky concludes its season with a 29-4 overall record after making its first appearance in the Regional Finals for the first time in the modern era of the tournament in program history. Nebraska moves on to the National Semifinals with a 30-4 overall record.
The box score points towards one of the best matches inside of Memorial Coliseum in an equally electric environment. Nebraska accounted for 61 kills. UK had 60. Kentucky had two more assists and four more digs. Both teams finished with 12 blocks.
“If you look at the stats, that was about as even as a match you could get,” Skinner added. “Four and Five seeds going at it toe–to-toe. They probably won the serving battle, which would have been the difference in the match, but give a lot of credit to Nebraska.”
Sophomore outside hitter Leah Edmond produced a match-high 20 kills – her third-consecutive match with 20 or more hammers. She also added 11 digs and a trio of blocks in an all-around effort. Edmond now has four career matches with 20 or more kills in the NCAA Tournament, the most of any player in the Skinner era. She was named to the Lexington All-Region team for her efforts. Edmond finishes her sophomore season with 539 kills, the most in a single year in the 25-point rally scoring era under Skinner.
Freshman Avery Skinner joined Edmond on the All-Region Tournament squad following a 10-kill performance. She finishes the season reaching double-digits in the kills’ column in 10 consecutive matches, including all four in the tournament.
Led by the senior trio of Kaz Brown, Ashley Dusek and Emily Franklin this Kentucky team showcased the heart and resilience it has shown all year. Brown and Edmond both finished their careers with 11 kills and five blocks apiece in their final collegiate match. Dusek had a match-high 19 digs and made countless rally-saving plays that will not show up on a box score. Ignited by their play, the raucous crowd clad in Blue and White nearly willed the Comeback Cats to a third consecutive five-set match.
Junior McKenzie Watson and freshman Gabby Curry continued to provide a steady presence on the backline with nine and eight digs, respectively. The duo combined for 63 digs in the NCAA Tournament and an average of 3.71 a set.
Freshman Madison Lilley had 52 assists, four digs and two blocks. She directed the Wildcats to the tune of 60 kills and a .252 attacking clip. Lilley’s 52 assists marked the ninth time this season she has topped that mark Junior Brooke Morgan chipped in with seven kills, four blocks and three digs.
Nebraska scored the opening point, but UK fired right back with a crafty tip shot from Skinner. The Huskers would score the next four to take a 5-1 lead before Edmond snapped the spurt with her first kill of the day. Nebraska was able to stretch the lead to five at 9-4, but UK responded with a kill off the quick set from Franklin. Despite a showcase of gutty hustle, Nebraska was able to maintain its five-point lead at 12-7 and UK opted for a timeout. Following the timeout, the Huskers picked up two straight to increase its lead to seven. The lead stretched to nine at 17-8 and Kentucky took its final timeout. Edmond sliced a kill out of the break to stop the run. Back-to-back blocks with Franklin involved enabled UK to cut the deficit to seven at 18-11. UK’s senior then produced consecutive kills and the Cats pulled to within six at 19-13 and Nebraska decided to talk things over. The Huskers benefited from two straight errors by the Cats to claim a comfortable advantage. Kentucky didn’t wilt and clawed back to within five after Brown and Edmond teamed up for a block at 24-19, but Nebraska eventually claimed a 25-19 opening-set win. Nebraska registered 16 kill son a .263 attacking percentage, while UK had 12 on a .250 clip. Edmond had four, while Franklin and Skinner both had three. Brown was in on two of UK’s four blocks and Watson and Dusek both picked up a trio of digs.
The Huskers opened the scoring to begin the second set with a kill and the Wildcats answered right back with a smashing hammer from Skinner. Edmond then took advantage of an overpass to give UK a 2-1 edge. From there the teams traded points until the visitors scored three straight for a 4-2 advantage. The lead swelled to four at 7-3 before Franklin converted off the slide to halt the spurt. Kentucky continued to fight and eventually a kill from Morgan helped the Cats get to within two at 9-7. A tricky serve from Curry sparked a kill from Edmond and the Wildcats pulled to within one at 11-10. The Huskers rallied back for two straight, and eventually had a 15-11 advantage at the media break. After an extended rally by both squads, Kentucky opted for a timeout trailing 18-13. The Huskers eventually stretched the lead to six at 22-16 and UK took its final timeout. Morgan converted a kill out of the break, and then Edmond had a powerful slam to help UK pull to within four at 23-19. Nebraska opted for a timeout and out of the break, Edmond tooled the block to get UK to within three. The Huskers earned set point, but UK didn’t quit and answered with a Brown kill. Edmond and Franklin teamed up for a block to bring the home team within one forcing Nebraska to use its final timeout. Nebraska wasted little time in taking the set with a kill on the very next play and a 25-22 second-set win. The Huskers totaled 17 kills on .326 hitting, while UK had 17 on a .233 average. Edmond tallied six in the frame, with Morgan, Skinner and Brown all having three. Dusek led the way with six digs in the stanza.
Morgan got things started in the third with a big swing for a kill. The teams would exchange points until the Cats won a challenge to earn a 3-1 lead. Brown and Lilley teamed up for a Big Blue block to push the lead to three at 5-2. Kentucky stretched the lead to four at 8-4 behind a kill from Edmond. A block from Edmond and Brown lifted UK to its largest lead of the set at 14-9, and UK took that five-point lead into the media timeout following a service error by the Huskers. Nebraska was able to inch closer and eventually pulled within three at 16-13, but UK answered with a kill from Edmond. Nebraska continued to chip away at Kentucky’s lead and moved to within two at 17-15, prompting a Wildcat timeout. Out of the break, Morgan earned a two-handed kill. The Huskers did not go away, however, and tied it at 18. Another error by the Wildcats enabled the Huskers to earn a 19-18 lead and the Cats opted to take their final timeout. Following the timeout, Nebraska increased its run to 6-0 and a 21-18 lead. Morgan snapped the run with a kill off the block. A crafty dump from Lilley brought the Wildcats back to within one and the Huskers chose to take their first timeout. Despite another valiant effort by the Cats defense, Nebraska took a two-point lead at 23-21. Brown fired right back with a kill off the hands as the home team showed no quit. An unlucky play at the net gave the Huskers match point. Franklin converted off the slide to give UK life and then the Huskers attack went long to knot the match at 24 apiece. Nebraska opted for their final timeout. Out of the break, Nebraska again earned match point with a kill. Edmond answered with a crowd-pleasing smash. Nebraska committed another error and this time UK had set point. After Nebraska lost the challenge, Morgan came up with a solo block to lift the Cats to a 27-25 third-set win. The Cats fought off three match points to extend the match. Kentucky had 18 kill on a .293 attacking percentage compared with 14 from Nebraska on a .174 clip. Edmond produced five kills, while Brown had four. Edmond and Dusek combined for 11 digs, while Brown had a pair of blocks.
The Huskers earned the set’s first point with a kill, but then gave it right back to the Cats with a service error. The visitors then scored the next four to take a 5-1 edge. Skinner finally halted the run with a kill. Curry again forced the Huskers out of system with a great serve and Lilley and Brown teamed up to make them pay to bridge the gap to two at 7-5. Lilley had success with her serve, Franklin was able to convert off the overpass, and the Cats got to within one at 9-8. After the Huskers were able to stretch their lead back to three, UK scored two straight, including an ace from Watson to again get to within one at 13-12. The teams swapped points until the Huskers took a 15-13 lead into the media timeout. After the Cats got to within one at 15-14, the Huskers were able to score two straight for a three-point advantage. Back-to-back kills from Edmond pulled the home team back to within one yet again at 17-16 and the Huskers opted for a timeout. Out of the timeout, UK committed a hitting error to give the visitors a multi-point lead once again. A kill from Franklin, followed by a Nebraska hitting error finally knotted the score at 18 apiece. The teams swapped points until the Huskers shook free for two straight and a 21-19 edge. Kentucky decided to use its first timeout. Brown converted off the slide to snap the run and bring Kentucky to within one. Nebraska answered by scoring the next two and earning a 23-20 advantage. The Cats took their final timeout. The Huskers committed a service error, but then earned match point with a kill on the next play. Brown converted off the slide once again to stave off match point bringing UK within two. A service error enabled the Huskers to win 25-22 and take the match. The Cats had 13 kills on .229 hitting, while Nebraska had 14 on a .357 clip.