Defense Smothers South Carolina Resulting in Win No. 13 in a Row

Defense Smothers South Carolina Resulting in Win No. 13 in a Row

by Grant Gearheart

LEXINGTON, Ky. – For the third-consecutive match the 14th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team utilized a strong defensive presence at the net with double-figure blocking numbers to pave the way to another victory. The stellar defensive effort led to the Wildcats’ 13th-consecutive win this time coming in the form of a 3-0 (25-18, 25-12, 25-23) sweep over visiting South Carolina in front of 2,267 fans inside Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky has logged 11 or more blocks in three straight matches with 11.5 being the difference maker in today’s victory. Senior Brooke Morgan logged a match-high six rejections, while freshman Alli Stumler recorded a career-high-tying five stuffs. Six different Wildcats had multiple blocks in today’s win.
“Defensively, we were very good today,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “Holding an SEC opponent to negative (hitting percentages) in the first two sets was impressive. I think the third set is more indicative of how South Carolina can play, and we had to battle for it. It’s good to be in tight situations to learn how to respond, but the floor defense, the blocking – it was impressive today.”
The Wildcats improve to 16-4 overall and 10-0 against Southeastern Conference foes. South Carolina falls to 15-6 on the season and 6-5 inside of league play. Kentucky remains home for a crucial matchup with No. 13 Florida on Wednesday night. The match is set to air live on ESPNU with first serve coming at 7 p.m. ET. It is the lone meeting between the league’s top-two teams this season.
Stumler put together an all-around effort to go along with her career-best day defensively. She also added 10 kills, four digs and a match-high two aces. Junior Leah Edmond generated a match-best 11 kills, to go along with seven digs and a pair of rejections. Classmate Caitlyn Cooper posted six hammers on a .417 attacking percentage to couple with two blocks and two digs.
Sophomore setter Madison Lilley continued to have a hand in just about every phase of the match. She dished out 30 assists, had nine digs, two blocks and an ace in the win. Classmate Kendyl Paris contributed four blocks and five kills on a .571 attacking clip.
Sophomore libero Gabby Curry posted 12 digs, while freshman Lauren Tharp had 10. It’s the second time in three matches Tharp has reached the double-figure dig plateau. Kentucky’s defense has limited opponents to a .199 or lower attacking clip in 12 straight matches.
Edmond started the match with a kill off the left side before Morgan and Edmond picked up blocks. South Carolina added an error, giving the Cats an early 4-0 lead in the set. The teams traded service errors before South Carolina placed a ball in the back-left corner.  The Gamecocks pieced together a block to close their gap to 5-3, but Edmond answered with another powerful termination on the left. Cooper responded to another USC kill with her first of the match at 7-4. A bad set from USC, UK error, and Gamecock blocks and an ace from Curry made it 8-7. Service errors were swapped again before Cooper got another kill. USC responded with a kill of its own in addition to a block on the right side, knotting the set up at 10. Stumler got on the board with a termination down the left side and Lilley and Morgan teamed up for a block to push the UK advantage to two at 12-10. A UK error was countered with Morgan’s first kill of the day. A Wildcat blocking error and Gamecock ace tied the set at 13 before UK retook the lead following a USC blocking error. A USC kill was met with three UK points: Cooper’s third kill, a massive block from Stumler and Paris, and another Gamecock error. Stumler perfectly placed a tipped ball just over the net on the left following a USC error to extend the UK lead to 19-14. South Carolina was forced to burn its final timeout of the set after another error and falling behind by six. Stumler’s second block extended the Wildcats’ 6-0 run and sparked a rocket from Edmond, pushing UK ahead by e at 22-14. USC went on a 3-1 run but it was halted by a hammer to the middle from Morgan – her second – giving the Wildcats set point. Stumler capped the set with her third kill of the match at 25-18.
Stumler picked up where she left off and started the second set with a kill before keeping the next rally alive with a diving dig, setting Edmond up for a shot down the right line for an early 2-0 lead. Edmond picked up the next two kills prior to Paris and Lilley teaming up for a block to get the UK lead to 5-1. The two swapped errors before USC capitalized with a kill and a block. Two Gamecock errors and an ace from Lilley – UK’s first of the match – led to a USC timeout at 9-4. USC pushed a ball to the back-left corner but UK took the next point on a service error. Lilley saved the next ball from going over on the dig just enough for Paris to slam it into the middle, increasing UK’s led to six at 11-5. Three of UK’s next four points came on blocks. A UK error and a kill from Cooper brought the score to 16-7. A USC kill was countered with a hard hit ball from Stumler before she picked up her first ace of the match, sending USC into a timeout at 18-8. USC had two errors and a kill placed on the left. Edmond killed the next extended rally with a shot down the left line for her seventh kill of the match. A UK blocking error for the Gamecocks enabled the lead to stretch to double digits at 20-10, but they gave the point right back in a service error. UK countered another error with Cooper’s fifth kill in the middle of the floor. Stumler got the Wildcats to set point with her hardest hit ball of the day across the floor Paris’s fourth kill ended it at 25-12.
Errors were swapped to 2-1 to start the set – one blocking and two serving. USC added an ace to get to 3-1 before Edmond powered her eighth kill to the middle of the floor. The Gamecocks came up with a block in the middle and took the next two points on a blocking error and a termination in the middle, extending their lead to 6-2. Edmond picked up a termination and Stumler had two to counter the two USC points. A ballhandling error from the Gamecocks closed their lead to just two at 8-6 prior to a UK service error. USC picked up a block and then surrendered a service error. USC pieced together two more kills to extend their lead to five at 12-7. UK asked for time and picked up two points out of the huddle with a USC service error and Edmond’s 10th kill. Cooper and Edmond added two more terminations to USC’s two, making the score 14-11. UK went on a 4-0 run with a kill from Cooper, huge block from Stumler and Paris and an ace from Edmond to draw even at 14 in the set. USC came up with three kills to UK’s one from Stumler. A USC service error and a termination on the left made USC’s lead two at 18-16. UK responded with a 3-0 run with a block from Edmond and Morgan and Stumler’s second ace, sending South Carolina back to the huddle with a one-point deficit at 19-18. Lilley registered back-to-back kills and USC picked up a ball handling error, but the Wildcats got the next point on a USC service error. Two UK errors, a USC kill and error and a Paris kill brought the score to a 24-23 UK. Kentucky asked for time to set up Stumler for the final kill and a 3-0 win.

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