Serving, Back-Line Defense Lead Kentucky Past WKU
The Kentucky volleyball team knew that they were almost certainly playing their final game of the season inside Memorial Coliseum on Friday. So, the Cats decided to put on a de facto clinic.
For the first two sets of Friday’s sweep of Western Kentucky, the Cats did just that. Kentucky showed how to effectively serve and how to play defense, especially on the back line, on their way to a two-set advantage.
The Cats would go on to a sweep of Western Kentucky, taking three sets in about 90 minutes. Kentucky has now won four consecutive matches without dropping a set.
At times in the first set, it seemed as though the ball just would not hit the floor on Kentucky’s side of the net. The Cats had 23 digs in the frame, including 10 from sophomore libero Eleanor Beavin and five from freshman Audrey Whitworth.
Beavin attributed her first-set performance to the style of play the Cats were facing.
“They run kind of a different offense than we usually see, so there were a lot of crazy balls that we’re not used to, so I was trying to be really scrappy and pick everything up,” Beavin said. “Luckily, the ball kind of got knocked around to me. Defense is a big factor. If we can slow down their best hitters, we (knew) if we could slow down their best hitters, we could be successful tonight.”
The Cats had four players with at least six digs in the match, led by Beavin, who notched 13. Whitworth and Adanna Rollins each had seven and Riah Walker had six.
And while the UK back line defense was solid, the serving game was just as good. The Cats had five aces, by five different servers, in set one.
The second set resembled the first in that the Cats continued to dig a high percentage of the WKU attacks, and the serve game continued to be strong. UK had 16 digs in the second set along with three aces. It all added up to a 25-16 set win and a 2-0 lead.
Senior Azhani Tealer thinks a change in practice has led to the Cats serving more effectively late in the season.
“Our serving in practice and the way started to train serving late in the season has been really good,” Tealer said. “Obviously, serving has been really good in the late part of the season. We were really aggressive, we hit our serves and (assistant coach) Merideth (Jewell) did a great job of calling them, so it was good.”
The Cats would fall behind in the third set, trailing by as many as six points. But, as they did all night, the Cats got effective serving, including a pair of aces from Whitworth, to eventually take the lead and win the set, 25-21.
UK had 10 services aces in the match, by six different players. Conversely, Western Kentucky did not have a service ace.
UK head coach Craig Skinner was pleased with his team’s performance in Friday’s match.
“Obviously, proud of our players for coming ready to play tonight,” Skinner said. “Back-to-back with two different opponents is tough. Really proud of the way our kids played, hitting .360 and giving ourselves a chance to score points with our serve.”
With the win, Kentucky advances to the Sweet 16, where they will likely face San Diego, although that had not been determined at the time this article was written.
In the last couple of weeks, the Cats have shown the ability to serve effectively, to pass at a high rate, to turn on the blocking game and to hit with great efficiency. As they move forward to the Sweet 16, having that versatility should be an advantage for Kentucky.