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Volleyball's resilience on display in comeback win

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Kentucky's season is barely a week old, but the Wildcats found themselves in a familiar spot on Friday night.

Facing VCU, UK would need to win the fifth set to come out on top in its home opener. Just six days prior, the Cats fell in five to Illinois.

This time around, the Cats closed it out.

"We've been in this situation before and let it slip away," UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "Inevitably, that's going to be in the back of your mind that we've been here before, how are we going to respond and we responded the right way."

After losing the first set and eventually falling behind 2-1 in the match, UK rallied to a 24-26, 25-15, 20-25, 25-19, 15-12 victory behind a team-best 14 kills by Lauren O'Conner and Whitney Billings' fourth double-double in as many matches. The Cats evened their record to 2-2 on the season in winning their second in a row, but it was never easy.

In fact, the visiting Rams (3-1) very well may have pulled off the upset if not for a two well-timed timeouts called by Skinner.

The first was in the fourth set, when UK trailed 17-15 and VCU needed just eight points to close it out. The Cats would respond by winning 10 of the next 12 points.

The second was in the fifth. This time, VCU led 8-5 and had all the momentum after winning three points in a row. UK would once again refuse to wilt out of the break, going on a 10-4 run to send the fans in Memorial Coliseum home happy.

"We challenged them a little bit," Skinner said. "You gotta step up and you gotta compete. It's about competing, and VCU has great competitors on that team. They weren't afraid of who we were or the environment or being on the road; they just competed and so we had to match that."

After dropping their first two matches of the season, the Cats have come to be defined by their resilience. They showed it in salvaging the final match of last weekend's Long Beach State Tournament on Sunday and it was once again on display Friday night.

UK was dominant in the second set to even the match at 1-1, but faltered in the third and to start the fourth. The Cats committed 11 third-set attack errors, then five more in the fourth as VCU built an 18-15 lead. Setter Morgan Bergren struggled to lead the attack and Shelby Workman, Lauren O'Conner and Sara Schwarzwalder combined for nine attack errors.

But as UK rallied, those four played key roles.

Bergren had eight of her match-high 36 assists on UK's final 23 points of the game to go with her seven kills.

"She made some really good decisions in the fifth game and maybe struggled with some decisions in the third and fourth, but in the fifth game she made the right choices and people put the ball away for her," Skinner said.

O'Conner, meanwhile, had three fifth-set kills.

"Lauren was huge tonight," Skinner said. "She struggled a little bit last weekend and we challenged her to step up because we need her and she's capable."

Workman and Schwarzwalder, both sophomores, accounted for four of UK's final eight points.

"It was good because they struggled a little bit in the middle of the match," Skinner said. "They came through at the end and, like I told them in the locker room, regardless of the situation, you've gotta keep grinding and grinding to win each point. Whether you've struggled before, this is the point we need to worry about. They did a good job of that."

Skinner will be looking for plenty more of that approach through the rest of the Kentucky Classic. After UK's match ended after 9 p.m. ET on Friday, the Cats will turn around and play two matches against Liberty and ETSU at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

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