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Volleyball takes two in Ohio, looks forward to Lincoln

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Ashley Frazier was named to The Baymont Invitational All-Tournament Team. (Britney McInosh, UK Athletics) Ashley Frazier was named to The Baymont Invitational All-Tournament Team. (Britney McInosh, UK Athletics)
After the Kentucky volleyball team lost last Wednesday to the rival Louisville Cardinals in a hard-fought 3-1 match, head coach Craig Skinner said he couldn't wait for his team to get back on the court. The taste of defeat is not Skinner's favorite flavor, and that opportunity to rinse Kentucky's collective pallet presented itself just two days later in The Baymont Invitational in Athens, Ohio.

The Wildcats got back into the win column that Friday night, taking down the host Ohio Bobcats in a 3-1 victory. They proved to be the enforcer on the road, hitting at a .238 clip led by outside attacker Lauren O'Conner with 15 kills, while right side hitter Whitney Billings tallied 13 kills of her own. Defensively, the Cats shined with 13 team blocks (3.25 blocks/set) while setter Christine Hartmann led the way with 15 digs to accompany her 45 assists.

Saturday brought the challenge of a double header, as most tournaments do, and a date with the then ranked No. 17 Oregon Ducks. The Ducks certainly didn't look like the 17th best team in the country. And the Wildcats didn't play like the 10th best team either. Out of the volleyball powerhouse conference that is the Pac-12, Oregon lived up to the Pac-12 hype and exceeded even their own expectations when handling Kentucky Saturday afternoon.

In game one Saturday, Oregon used a potent offensive attack to power to a .500 hitting percentage and take the match 3-0. Kentucky put up a fight in set one and even held a lead into set two before Oregon put them away with big runs in the second and third sets to sweep the Cats. Though Oregon may have been slightly underrated, the match looked like the low point for UK early on this season.

As a team, UK hit only .153 as a team against the Ducks. They managed only 4.0 blocks in the entire match, a far cry from their usual defensive dominance at the net. Oregon snuck up on the Cats and showed no mercy.

With Oregon delivering a haymaker earlier in the day, UK still had one match remaining in the nightcap with the Western Carolina Catamounts. The Wildcats bounced back and handled their business against WCU, sweeping the match in straight sets to hop on the bus back to Lexington with a 2-1 weekend record to push their season tally to 5-2. Senior Ashley Frazier had a big night with 12 kills and career-best seven digs to lead the Cats to victory.

Frazier and Billings were each named to The Baymont Invitational All-Tournament Team.

Kentucky has one last non-conference tournament left before SEC play begins, and once again, this will be no walk in the park. The Wildcats have faced stiff competition thus far in the non-conference slate, and this weekend will be no different when they travel to Lincoln, Neb. to play in the Ameritas Players Challenge. Duquesne, Oklahoma, and Nebraska join UK in a stacked field for the tournament, with Nebraska holding the No. 1 ranking in the nation.

The tournament gives Kentucky a great opportunity to prepare for the rigors of the SEC while using the best team the in country as a measuring stick for the program. While many may not give UK a chance in their battle with the Huskers, they may be quick to forget that UK gave the top-ranked Texas Longhorns all they could handle in the Sweet 16 last year before falling short, 3-1. If Kentucky comes out looking to prove themselves this weekend as they did last December, Nebraska might have more on their hands than they bargained for.

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