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Volleyball delivers another strong performance against Texas A&M in Sunday sweep

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Christine Hartmann helped lead Kentucky to a sweep over Texas A&M with 39 assists. (UK Athletics, Britney McIntosh) Christine Hartmann helped lead Kentucky to a sweep over Texas A&M with 39 assists. (UK Athletics, Britney McIntosh)
Texas A&M had made quite an impressive start to its inaugural Southeastern Conference season. The Aggies had won seven of their first eight matches in the SEC, led the Western division by two games, and held the second-best record in the conference.

If it weren't for Kentucky, they'd be an undefeated 8-0 in the conference.

Kentucky, however, appears to have the Aggies' number. The Wildcats traveled to College Station, Texas, for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament last season, and defeated Texas A&M for the right to go to the Sweet 16. In the Wildcats' first return visit to College Station this season to face the Aggies for the first time in SEC play, it was Kentucky who came out victorious once more in a five-set thriller.

With the Aggies traveling to Lexington for the first time as members of the SEC, they would be looking for revenge against the team who had beaten them in their last two matchups and accounted for their lone blemish in conference play.

However, it was Kentucky who showed up and looked angry seemingly having its way with the Aggies for most of the afternoon in UK's annual "Dig Pink Match."

In their earlier matchup, both teams were rough around the edges and made several errors throughout the match. In the first set on Sunday, all the mistakes were coming from the Texas A&M side of the net while UK was nearly flawless. A first set score of 25-11 certainly reflected that. Kentucky forced nine Aggie errors including five-and-a-half blocks. The Wildcat presence at the net was nearly impenetrable for most of the set.

On the flip side, UK attacked at an impeccable .419 clip making only one attacking error compared to 14 kills. It was a truly dominant statement for Kentucky to open the match.

"It was at one point we were up 8-2 and we were like, 'That's it, we're going to keep this up,' because in our last match we were up 8-2 and let teams come back," said senior setter Christine Hartmann. "So we just made sure we learned from our past mistakes and weren't going to let that happen."

Junior middle blocker Alexandra Morgan and sophomore outside hitter Lauren O'Conner each led the way with four kills and three blocks each.

Texas A&M regrouped quickly in the second set, as the Aggies knew they could ill-afford to go down 2-0 on the road to the Wildcats. The Aggies tightened up the screws while Kentucky was far from sharp in the second set. Kentucky looked far more pedestrian than they had in the first set, while it appeared that A&M was back to the form that had taken them to a 7-1 record in the conference.

Each team swapped scores for nearly the entire set. Texas A&M grabbed an early 6-4 lead. Then Kentucky would storm back to go up by two. It went that way for most of the set between the two teams for the duration. Kentucky grabbed momentum late as junior right side hitter Whitney Billings started to get going. She broke a tie at 16 with a thunderous kill off an Aggie defender, one of her four in the set, and it looked like Kentucky had gained some momentum.

The Aggies continued to battle to the wire, but Hartmann all but sealed the deal for the Cats in the second set with a dump into the center of the Texas A&M defense to give UK set point at 24-22. Texas A&M tried to stall Kentucky with a timeout, but on the ensuing play, the Aggies sent their attack long and Kentucky jumped out to a familiar 2-0 score in the match. Despite the early dominance in set one, UK knew that Texas A&M wouldn't lay down in the second set.

"We knew that that's what they were capable of," said Hartmann who dished out 39 assists. "They're a good team and that wasn't their best and we knew they could come back."

It was the fourth time in the last four matches that Kentucky had taken a 2-0 lead into the locker room at the break. They finished off matches against Ole Miss and Mississippi State in two of the four, but they were unable to finish the job against Florida last weekend on the road as UK was in the midst of an upset bid. The Cats had the opportunity to finish off the Gators in three sets last Sunday, and on this Sunday, the same opportunity presented itself.

However, this time, Kentucky would finish what it started.

As Hartmann continued to guide an incredibly balanced offensive attack, Kentucky held on to a comfortable lead for most of the third set and at no point did UK seemed threatened by the Aggies. O'Conner led the way for the Cats in the third set with six kills to give her a team-high 12 for the match. Billings added four to give her 11 kills on the day to go with 14 digs to give her the seventh double-double of the season.

The Wildcats went on to finish the set with a 25-19 victory and give Kentucky its third sweep in its last four matches and four out of the last six.

Kentucky (12-7, 6-3 SEC) is now responsible for both blemishes on the SEC schedule for Texas A&M (15-3, 7-2 SEC) this season. Though Skinner wouldn't say that Kentucky has the Aggies' number, he does believe that their win over Texas A&M back on Sept. 23 may have been the turning point of the season for his Cats. He now hopes that momentum they've built helps them going forward as they prepare for another tough weekend ahead in SEC play.

"It was a start of a succession of good matches," said Skinner. "If that was the turning point, it certainly turned our confidence level and how we were playing the game. It's continued for a few weeks now and we've got an important weekend next weekend with Arkansas and LSU and we've got to get back into the gym and get better on Tuesday."

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