Volleyball Cats Prepared to Face Washington in Final Four
The Kentucky volleyball team has had a magical season in 2020-21. The Cats have lost just one match, earned the number two seed in the NCAA Tournament and, on Monday night, clinched the first Final Four berth in school history.
But being the competitors they are, the Cats who were on the team last year still remember how last season finished. UK made it to the Sweet 16 only to lose to Washington in four sets, ending a 25-7 season for Kentucky. The Cats have not forgotten, although making the national championship game is perhaps more motivating than getting revenge against the Huskies.
“I’m not sure that it gets more motivating than right now,” said UK senior setter Madison Lilley. “We’ve been waiting for these moments since the last time we played Washington at Baylor last year and lost in four.”
In that match, which took place on Dec. 13, 2019 in Waco, Texas, it was Washington playing an outstanding first game to take an early advantage. The Huskies hit .448 in the first stanza, while the Cats hit just .241. The result was a 25-16 game victory for Washington.
Washington continued its big effort in the second game, hitting .435 during that stanza. But Kentucky hung tough, despite not having its best offensive effort. The Cats took an 18-15 lead on a kill by Leah Edmond but saw Washington score the next four points to lead 19-18. The rest of the game was back-and-forth until the Huskies scored two in a row to win 26-24.
Kentucky dominated the third game, grabbing an early 9-4 advantage and eventually leading by as many as 10 points. The Cats would win the game 25-15 and had some momentum heading into the fourth game.
That fourth game was a tight one until late. With the teams tied at 21 apiece, Washington ran off three points in a row to get to match point. And, just two points later, the Huskies won the game 25-22 to take the match three sets to one.
The good news, from a Kentucky perspective, is that Washington’s Kara Bajema, who led everyone with 24 kills in that match, graduated and is no longer on the Huskies’ roster. The bad news is that Kentucky’s top three offensive producers in that match, Edmond, Leah Meyer and Caitlin Cooper, are no longer on UK’s roster. Current UK junior Alli Stumler did have 10 kills in the match, Lilley had 47 assists and three service aces, while Gabby Curry had 19 digs.
Washington has had a unique run in the 2020-21 NCAA Tournament. The Huskies, who were seeded sixth overall, have played three matches in the event and all three have gone five games.
The Huskies opened with a 3-2 win over Dayton in the second round. In the Sweet 16, Washington rallied from a two games to one deficit to win the last two and claim a 3-2 win over Louisville. Then in the Elite Eight, the Huskies trailed upstart Pittsburgh two games to none before winning the last three to advance to the Final Four for the fourth time in school history.
Kentucky, on the other hand, has dominated its three matches in the NCAA Tournament. The Cats swept UNLV in the second round, then did the same to Western Kentucky in the Sweet 16. The Cats completed their first-even run to the Final Four with a sweep of Purdue on Monday night.
Lilley knows that the Cats will be ready for Thursday’s match.
“This is why we compete, this is why we love the game,” Lilley said. “I know that we’re going to be ready to go. I’m so excited to play on Thursday. It’s going to be a fun match.”