Defense, Serving Leads Wildcats to 12th Consecutive Win

Defense, Serving Leads Wildcats to 12th Consecutive Win

by Deb Moore

ATHENS, Ga. – In what has become a winning formula for the Kentucky volleyball team, the Wildcats turned out a spectacular defensive effort, the serving was a difference maker and balance was the key offensively en route a dominating 3-0 (25-18, 25-14, 25-17) win at Georgia on Friday night. It marked the 12th-consecutive win for the Wildcats to remain atop the Southeastern Conference standings.
“We challenged our team to step up the defensive pressure this week,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “We definitely responded on the court. I’m very pleased with our concentration for the duration of the match. I thought everyone made an impact as we went all the way through set three.”
With the win, Kentucky improves to 15-4 overall on the season and 9-0 in league play. Georgia falls to 12-9 overall and 3-7 against SEC competition. Kentucky will return home on Sunday with a 1:30 p.m. matchup with South Carolina on the dock.
Kentucky’s defensive dominance was on display particularly in the second stanza where the Cats rallied for seven blocks. UK also produced six aces in the frame.
Three players recorded nine kills to lead the way offensively as Leah Edmond, Brooke Morgan and Alli Stumler all registered the number. Morgan also paced the team with a match-high six blocks. Edmond contributed four blocks and six digs, while Stumler added seven digs and a block.
Sophomore setter Madison Lilley directed the offense to the tune of 34 assists and a .323 attacking clip. She contributed a trio of kills, two service aces, two blocks and eight scoops. Sophomore libero Gabby Curry picked up a match-high 17 digs. Freshman Lauren Tharp added eight to the winning cause. Kendyl Paris posted three kills, four blocks and a dig and Caitlyn Cooper notched six kills and four blocks.
Morgan got things going with a kill off the block for the match’s first point. Edmond followed with a kill from the left side, then the Cats forced Georgia into an erroneous attack and Morgan answered with another kill for an early 4-0 edge. After the Bulldogs responded with three straight of their own, Kentucky went back to Morgan who laced a shot cross-court to spell the run. Kentucky put together another 4-0 run with Paris and Cooper teaming up for a block and kills from Stumler and Edmond to move the score to 10-4 in favor of the visitors. Stumler heated up and scored three of four points for the Cats as they took a 15-10 lead into the media timeout. Following another kill from Stumler, Georgia opted for a timeout trailing 19-13. Out of the break, UK went right back to Stumler who smashed her sixth kill of the frame for a 20-13 edge and Georgia took its final timeout. It was all the more breathing room the Wildcats would need as Morgan ended the frame in the same fashion she began it with a kill from the right side for a 25-18 opening set win.
Kentucky jumped out to a quick start to start the second. Stumler earned the first ace of the match and then Morgan and Lilley combined for a rejection. A phenomenal defensive rally for the Wildcats resulted in a block from the Edmond-Paris tandem and a 5-3 lead. The Bulldogs fired back for an 8-6 advantage. Kentucky halted the run with another block, this time from Morgan and Cooper. Kentucky eventually took the lead again at 10-9 on another ace from Stumler after Edmond and Morgan produced a solo block. Kentucky forced a timeout ahead 11-9 when Morgan and Lilley generated the fifth block of the stanza for the Cats. Lilley called her own number with a crafty dump and a 14-11 lead for the Wildcats. After Lilley laced the set’s fourth ace, Cooper and Paris teamed up for yet another block. Kentucky owned a 16-11 advantage when Georgia burned its final timeout. A 6-0 run with tough serving and defensive dominance leading the way extended the advantage to 19-11. Kentucky scored five of the final six points with Morgan picking up her seventh kill of the match for the 25-14 win and a 2-0 lead.
After Morgan and Lilley got their hands on the opening Georgia attempt, Edmond and Morgan came up with a monstrous block for the second point of the frame. An ace that nicked the net and fell just out of the reach of UK tied things at three as Georgia clawed back. Lilley again, called her own number, to snap the Bulldogs’ string of points. The teams exchanged points until the Cats shook loose for four straight and a 10-6 edge capped by a kill from Cooper. Georgia chose to take its first timeout. Out of the break, the Wildcats went right back to Cooper who converted down the line and then the Cats forced the Dogs into an errant attack for a 12-6 advantage. Georgia decided to take its final timeout. Kentucky extended its stretch of points with a kill from the back row from Edmond for a 13-6 lead out of the break. Avery Skinner smashed back-to-back kills to lift UK to a 21-14 lead. Fittingly, it was Kentucky’s defense that forced an error for the winning point and a 25-17 win.  
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