No. 21 Wildcats Fall to No. 7 Illini

Box Score (pdf)

WICHITA, Kan. – Despite an impressive day defensively at the net with career days blocking from two Kentucky players and a season best from three more, the No. 21 Wildcats dropped their first match of the Shocker Volleyball Classic, 3-0 (24-26, 19-25, 18-25), to the No. 7 Illinois Fighting Illini.

The front line had an impressive day, registering 13.0 team blocks – just shy of the season-best 13.5 blocks – which the Wildcats registered in five sets against then-No. 19 Michigan State. The team’s 26 block assists tied the record for the most in a three-set match during the 25-point rally scoring era, occurring three times before, most recently last season at home against Auburn.

“I think we did a great job defensively today and kept a very good offensive team to a low hitting percentage and gave ourselves a good chance to succeed,” said 11th-year head coach Craig Skinner. “We have to do a better job of eliminating errors and improving our hitting percentage to win those sets [in the future].”

With the loss, UK falls to 4-4 on the season, as Illinois improves its record to 5-1. The Wildcats look to split even on the day at 9 p.m., when they face host Wichita State in the Charles Koch Arena. The evening’s match will be broadcast on WatchESPN, here.

Two members of the UK volleyball team had personal bests at the net in the three-set loss. Sophomore middle blocker Kaz Brown tied her career-high with eight blocks, previously set twice in four and five-set matches earlier this season. Freshman right side hitter Brooke Morgan recorded six stuffs during the match, topping her previous high of five set at Northern Iowa a week before. 

Senior Morgan Bergren, sophomore middle Emily Franklin and freshman Anna Nyberg all tied season highs in blocks. Franklin met her 2015-best five blocks, which she set during the five-set win over then No. 19 Michigan State, while Bergren tied her season-best three, which she had accomplished two times prior. Nyberg had two blocks, matching her output at Northern Iowa a week ago. Sophomore Darian Mack also registered two blocks in the match.

On offense, Mack paced the team with eight kills. Brown and Franklin added seven each, with Franklin leading UK hitters at a .351 clip. Bergren, Nyberg and Morgan combined for eight kills to round out the Wildcats’ attack. 

Sophomore libero Ashley Dusek hauled in a team-high 11 digs, extending her streak of double-figure matches to six. Mack had 10 digs, followed by defensive specialists freshman McKenzie Watson and sophomore Harper Hempel, who had seven and four respectively. Bergren had three digs of her own and Franklin added one.

Set Recaps

Set 1

The closest of the three sets, UK jumped out to a 3-1 lead early, before the Illini responded with a 3-1 run of its own to tie the match at four. The set was tight throughout, with neither team leading by more than two for the duration and 16 ties throughout. The height of the match came at 23-all, when UK forced an Illinois error for match point. The Illini responded, taking three-straight and closing out the set, 24-26. 

Set 2  

The Illini opened the second set the same way it closed out the first, scoring three-straight. The Wildcats responded, tying the match at 4-4 and 5-5 before taking the lead. The Illini opened up a 6-1 run, capitalizing on Kentucky errors, to force the Cats to take a timeout behind, 7-11. Illinois expanded the lead to five before UK took its final timeout, down 11-16. The sides traded points, but the deficit never shrank below five before Illinois took the second set, 19-25. 

Set 3

The third set began with an 8-2 Illinois run, with the Illini’s Jocelynn Birks powering the attack with three kills and a block in the first five points of the set. Kentucky took a timeout, which seemed to do the trick, as the Wildcats tore open a 7-2 run to pull within a point of Illinois, 9-10. The Cats would tie things up at 15-15 before Illinois took five of the next six points to extend its lead to 16-20. UK would win a few more, but could not defend match point, falling 18-25 in the final frame.

By the Numbers

.130 – The stringent Kentucky defense held Illinois to just .130 hitting, forcing 28 errors

26 – The Wildcats had 26 block assists in the match, tying the three-set record during the 25-point rally scoring era, which had happened three times prior.

8 – Kaz Brown had eight blocks, tying her career record and setting a new personal best for the sophomore in three-set matches

6 – With 11 digs against the Illini, Ashley Dusek extends her streak of matches with double-digit digs to six

5 – Five members of the UK squad had career or season records in blocks against the Illini

Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 11-12. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Omaha, Neb., from the Lexington Region. This marks the third time in five seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event. Parking is limited and fans are encouraged to arrive early.

For the latest on the Kentucky volleyball team, follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and on the web at UKathletics.com

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