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Potent offensive attack propels UK to fifth straight win

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OConner_BW.jpeg It was a clockwork-type performance for Craig Skinner's volleyball team Sunday afternoon. Kentucky (17-8, 11-4 SEC) used a powerful and balanced offensive attack to sweep Southeastern Conference opponent South Carolina.

The Kentucky offense spearheaded by senior setter Christine Hartmann was virtually unstoppable as Hartmann dished out 38 assists leading her hitters to a .471 hitting percentage on the day. Sophomore outside hitter Lauren O'Conner led the way for Kentucky with 12 kills, but she was one of five Wildcat attackers to record at least seven kills in the match.

"Offensively we've been pretty efficient and hitting the right shots at the right time," said Skinner. "Hartmann's doing a nice job of getting people one-on-one swings, so I'm pretty happy with that."

After tying their season-high for consecutive wins this season on Friday with their fourth in a row over Ole Miss, the Wildcats picked up their fifth in a row Sunday and it appears UK is playing some of its best volleyball of the season.

"At the beginning of the season we always said we want to peak at the end, which is good we are doing it now," said O'Conner. "I just think we have to keep focusing and working on it to keep going the rest of the season."

Kentucky came out of the gates and stunned the Gamecocks almost immediately. The Cats laid down a quick 25-14 first set score that saw senior Ashley Frazier continue her hot streak after putting away 20 kills on Friday. She racked up three of her 10 kills in the match on her first three swings of the first set. It set the tone for a big day for the Wildcat hitters who took off from there.

As Hartmann continued to find all of her hitters Sunday, South Carolina had no answers defensively as UK dictated each set. Whether it was Whitney Billings smashing a ball down the line from the right side, one of the outside hitters, or Sara Schwarzwalder picking apart the opposing middle blockers, most of Kentucky's shots were falling on the other side of the net.

When the Wildcats are evenly distributing and terminating at a high rate, they are very difficult to game plan against.

"If we're able to get everyone involved, it's very difficult typically for teams to prepare," said Skinner. "It's something we work on every day. When you see it on the floor and under the lights during matches, it builds confidence."

The confidence has been building as UK continues to string together wins over the last five matches. Kentucky continues to revisit what Skinner has been preaching lately. His players are responding and "the way we play," a theme that Skinner is harping on daily to his team, is catching on while also leading the team to success on the weekends.

"I think we're all so focused," said O'Conner. "We're focusing on starting off well. Like coach has been saying 'the way we play,' and that's definitely very important for how we play the rest of the season.

"No matter how we play, we just have to focus on that."

While Skinner praised his team's offense, he knows there is improvement to be found in other phases of the game. A UK team that has had a lot of success in being physical at the net struggled today to stop the South Carolina outside hitters. Kentucky is going to have to improve defensively if it hopes to reach the peak the team is striving for once postseason rolls around.

"I haven't seen us stop improving, but defensively we still have to get better," said Skinner. "We've got to do a better job of defending outside hitters.

"We can't just keep letting outside hitters get kill after kill. Against good teams we need to prepare for, we have to do a good job at that."

Kentucky was effective at getting South Carolina out of system on Sunday. The Cats served tough with seven aces, but there's still room for improvement down the stretch.

"We've had some good matches where we've done that," said Skinner. "We do a good job of getting teams out of system and we have to do a better job of scoring when we do get them out of system. We do at times, but it's not consistent enough."

If the Cats want to extend their season-high win streak they will have to do it by winning on the road. After getting two big wins last weekend as the visiting team, UK will travel to Alabama and Arkansas this upcoming weekend. If Kentucky regains its defense to combine it with its offensive potency, the Wildcats should be streaking and peaking their way into the NCAA Tournament.

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