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Cats reminded that every game counts towards title

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The Kentucky volleyball team has been playing the part of 18-time defending Southeastern Conference champion Florida for weeks. On Wednesday, it got a taste of what it feels like to be out in front.

With a target firmly on their backs, the Cats finally let a conference match slip through their paws. UK fell Wednesday night to Tennessee, 3-1, dropping to 19-2 on the season, 9-1 in conference play.

If anyone thought UK was going to march through the rugged SEC undefeated, think again. The league is too good and league play is too long to hope for that.

But aside from the pain, the loss of sole possVB 09_10 UK_Cincy 49.jpgession of first place and the disappointment of the largest crowd of the season, Wednesday's loss might have been a firsthand lesson the Cats actually needed to win this season's conference crown.

If UK didn't know what it felt like to be the hunted, it surely does now. After years of playing the part of the hunter, it's clear to head coach Craig Skinner and his team what they will need to do if they're going to adopt the role of the hunted and break Florida's streak.

"We need to be tougher," Skinner said. "We need to be tougher and handle pressure that other teams give us. Everyone wants to beat us. That's obvious, and we've got to be able to handle that better."

Sure, no one wants to lose, especially to a team like Tennessee, which abruptly ended UK's chance at a conference title last year on the final day of the regular season.

"I don't think this one has anything to do with last year," Skinner said. "I think they outplayed us tonight. We had too many hitting errors - 29 hitting errors over a game - and we had one player get twice as many swings as everybody else on our roster. You can't do that and beat good teams."

But the loss might do UK a little good. Maybe it makes them stronger. Maybe it makes them tougher. Maybe it's that one final subtle reminder that Skinner has been preaching to his team all season long: every single game counts towards a conference championship.

And the Cats now know that.

The good news/bad news scenario is that LSU is next on the schedule.

The bad news is that LSU is on a tear - LSU hasn't lost since dropping the match to Kentucky a month ago - and is now tied with UK for the conference lead.

The good news is UK can take sole possession of the conference lead right back in a potential league-deciding match. There's a lot of riding on Saturday's game, but every match is big from here on out. Every game counts in a championship run.

"I think that we don't really change anything about what we do," Skinner said. "We've done the same thing training wise and teaching all season long. It's about executing and we did not do that and Tennessee did that better than us."

On Wednesday Tennessee was the better team. If the Cats are worthy of the SEC championship, it'll be the perfect reminder of what it takes to stay in front.

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