Seniors Propel No. 10 Kentucky to Saturday Sweep of No. 20 Gators
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Behind a team-high 15 kills from senior Reagan Rutherford, five blocks from Azhani Tealer, four kills from Elise Goetzinger and a dig from Riah Walker, the No. 10 Kentucky Volleyball team swept No. 20 Florida 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-20) inside Rupp Arena to claim sole possession of the Southeastern Conference championship.
With Sunday’s win, Kentucky secured the outright SEC championship, as the Wildcats won the league by an impressive two game, with Tennessee getting swept by South Carolina on Saturday afternoon. Kentucky finishes league play 17-1 overall with Tennessee and Arkansas tying for second place in the SEC with a 15-3 overall record in the SEC.
Kentucky hit .266 as a team, but more impressively, held the high-powered Gators offense to .196 in the match with five blocks. The Wildcats got 37 assists from Emma Grome on 45 of Kentucky’s kills with Rutherford joined by junior Erin Lamb in double figures, with Lamb logging 11 kills in the match.
UK is now the holder of the NCAA’s longest winning streak, as Kentucky has won 16-straight matches dating back to its SEC opener against the Tennessee Volunteers on opening weekend of SEC play. With 17 wins, Kentucky adds to it its two from non-conference play and the Wildcats close out the season with a 19-7 overall record and will almost certainly be locked in as a sub-regional host for the first and second rounds next weekend in Rupp Arena.
The 2023 NCAA Volleyball Selection Show will be held Sunday night at 6 p.m. ET and shown live on ESPN with Courtney Lyle, Holly McPeak and Katie George anchoring coverage from Bristol, Connecticut.
Kentucky controlled things from the start and hit .343 in the set, siding out at a 66 percent clip to roll to a 25-18 opening-set win. Florida was pushed into its first timeout at 11-8 following an Azhani Tealer kill and down three, the lead for UK quickly ballooned to four at 18-14 and the Gators used their second timeout after. A 3-0 UK run out of the Gator timeout made things comfortable for the Wildcats down the stretch, who closed out the opening frame, 25-18.
In the second set, the beginning points were tight, with Florida with standing a 3-0 Wildcat run early as UK took a 9-6 lead. The Gators lost a challenge to make things 12-9 UK, and were forced into a timeout at 17-14 with UK eight points away. The Gators closed the lead and Kentucky called its first timeout at 20-19 but kills from Reagan Rutherford and Erin Lamb down the stretch kept the Wildcats in front down the stretch to close out a 2-0 lead.
In the third, it was the tightest of the three sets, with neither team gaining and tangible separation until a 13-7 UK lead was formed thanks to Elise Goetzinger. The run was 5-0 and Florida called a quick timeout to try and stop the momentum. A huge kill on an extended rally brought UK to a 14-8 lead but the Gators chipped away to make things 18-17 and Kentucky was pushed into a timeout. After a dig by Riah Walker and a kill from Reagan Rutherford, UK arrived at match point, leading 24-20 and a kill by Brooklyn DeLeye ended the set and the match, 25-20.
The key moment in the match was a 5-0 run in the early parts of the third set that pushed Kentucky out to a 13-7 lead and asserted the Wildcats in front with a 2-0 lead already in tow.
The key player in the match was Reagan Rutherford, who hit .444 on the afternoon with 15 kills on only 27 swings.
- With Saturday’s result, Kentucky clinches the SEC title by two matches over the rest of the SEC.
Kentucky Volleyball in Rupp Arena
UK Athletics announced earlier this spring that Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center will serve as the primary home venue for the Kentucky gymnastics, volleyball and women’s basketball teams for the 2023-24 season while Memorial Coliseum undergoes an $82 million renovation.
For the latest on UK Volleyball, follow the Wildcats on Twitter and Instagram at @KentuckyVB.