No. 21 Wildcats Sweep NIU to Close Out Shocker Volleyball Classic
WICHITA, Kan. – The 21st-ranked Kentucky volleyball team was firing on all cylinders on Saturday evening, sweeping the Northern Illinois Huskies, 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-19), in Charles Koch Arena.
UK mounted an impressive attack throughout, hitting at a scorching .361 clip over three sets while winning the kills column by a plus-15 margin. The Wildcats also added seven aces over the course of the match.
“I was pleased with the consistent focus throughout the match,” head coach Craig Skinner commented on the sweep. “We were able to run our offense a little bit smoother tonight, Morgan [Bergren] had a lot of options to put us in one-on-one situations and our attackers produced. Just very pleased with the effort.”
With the win, Kentucky advances to 5-5 on the season, while NIU drops to 4-5 for the 2015 campaign. The Wildcats will resume play on Friday, Sept. 18, traveling to Cincinnati for a regional matchup with Xavier at 6 p.m.
The Wildcats placed two players on the Shocker Volleyball Classic All-Tournament team in the sophomore duo of Kaz Brown and Darian Mack. Mack paced the offense on the weekend with 39 kills over three matches, hitting at a .221 clip. She added 29 digs, along with four assists and four blocks. Brown continued her steady production, with 28 kills on the weekend on .345 hitting. She also led the team in blocks with 18 and added an assist.
The Wildcats were red-hot in the victory, with Mack leading the way for UK. She smashed 15 kills in the blanking of NIU, hitting .414 on 29 attempts. Mack also came two digs short of a double-double. Sophomore Sharay Barnes logged her second straight start, killing 10 balls with just one error. Brown had six kills and no errors during the match, while also co-leading the team with four blocks.
Sophomore libero Ashley Dusek had an incredible match passing, earning her first double-double of the season after dishing out 11 assists and digging 10 balls. She also accounted for two of the Wildcats’ seven aces. Senior setter Morgan Bergren also did her part to stuff the stat sheet, logging a match-high 28 assists while tallying nine digs, four blocks, three kills and an ace.
Freshman Anna Nyberg and sophomore Emily Franklin both got involved on the offensive end, as Nyberg logged seven kills, as Franklin had six and a pair of blocks. Franklin was also responsible for two aces. Defensive specialists Harper Hempel and McKenzie Watson each had aces as well, with Hempel digging three balls and Watson getting under seven.
After splitting the first two points, the Wildcats never trailed in the set. After opening the gap to four points multiple times, three straight points from NIU made it 19-16. UK took a timeout before scoring six of the final nine points for a 25-19 win. Four UK players had three or more kills in the set.
The second set was close during the early going, with the teams trading points to a 10-10 tie. Kentucky then took off, opening an 8-2 run as the Wildcats forced three errors during the spurt to take a commanding 18-12 lead. Northern Illinois wouldn’t give up, scoring three straight, leading to a Wildcats’ timeout. The break proved a wise decision, as UK went on to score seven of the final 12 points for the 25-20 advantage.
The third set provided the most drama of the evening, including six ties and five lead changes. Both sides remained close until late, when Nyberg smashed a ball down to tie the match at 18-18. From there, the Wildcats put all of the pieces together, closing out the final stanza on a 7-1 run. Mack spearheaded the offense in the third, hitting .500 with six kills.
By the Numbers
.361 – The Wildcats had a blistering .361 hitting percentage in the sweep of Northern Illinois
39 – Darian Mack had a team-best 39 kills over the weekend
11 – On top of her 10 digs, Ashley Dusek had 11 assists for her first career double-double
7 – UK combined for seven service aces in the win (Franklin and Dusek, 2; Bergren, Watson and Hempel; 1)
2 – Two UK players in Darian Mack and Kaz Brown were named to the Shocker Volleyball Classic All-Tournament team.
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.