No. 10 Kentucky Volleyball Downs Northern Iowa in Four
LEXINGTON, Ky. – After entering the break tied with Northern Iowa, the No. 10 University of Kentucky volleyball team closed out the Panthers in four sets, earning a 3-1 (25-20, 25-27, 25-19, 25-20) win in the first of three matches it will play this weekend in the McLeod Center.
On offense, the team logged a season-best 67 kills. The 67 kills ties the most kills in a four-set Kentucky match during the 25-point rally scoring era. Everyone contributed heavily in the effort, with five Wildcat players registering double-figure kills. Sophomore outside Darian Mack and freshman Anna Nyberg both had career days. Mack paced the team with 17 kills and came one dig shy of a double-double, while Nyberg cracked double-digit kills for the first time with 12 while adding five digs and two blocks. Senior Sara Schwarzwalder set a season-high with 10 kills while adding three blocks.
“Early on we weren’t scoring well in transition,” said 11th-year head coach Craig Skinner. “We weren’t making those plays and killing in transition, and that’s what Northern Iowa did in the second set that we didn’t do. That really turned the tide, and in set three we had 12 transition kills while they had two or three, and I think that coming up with those plays is what helped us.”
With the four-set win, Kentucky moves to 4-1 on the season, while Northern Iowa drops to 1-3. The Wildcats prepare for a double header tomorrow, beginning the day with a top-10 matchup in No. 8 Southern California at 11 a.m. The Cats will close out the Northern Iowa Tournament on Saturday evening, facing Creighton at 6:30 p.m.
The Cats’ defense stood tall over the course of the match, holding Northern Iowa to just .134 hitting, while the team recorded 68 digs and 11.5 total blocks in the match.
Sophomore libero Ashley Dusek stepped up once again, stringing together another impressive performance in which she registered 31 digs while earning a career-best seven assists. The performance marked the third time this season she has logged 25 or more digs, with the others being the matches against Michigan State (34) and Ohio (28).
“I think Ashley was the MVP of this match. 31 digs in four sets and her serve really made a big difference for us. She’s capable of that, and as she continues to develop more confidence she’ll have a chance to make a difference every match.”
Iowa natives sophomore Kaz Brown and freshman Brooke Morgan showed out in front of their hometown crowd, as the duo combined for 23 kills and 13 blocks. Brown hammered 13 kills while tying her career-best eight blocks, while Morgan set career-highs in both kills (10) and blocks (5).
Senior setter Morgan Bergren recorded her first double-double of the year with 51 assists and a season-best 11 digs. Bergren also had a team-best .571 hitting, earning five kills with one error on seven attempts and added three blocks. Freshman McKenzie Watson and sophomore Harper Hempel both contributed on the defensive end, with nine and two digs respectively.
The hometown twosome of Brown and Morgan opened the frame with an emphatic block, leading the team to a 3-1 lead before the sides traded points until they were tied at 20. The Cats then proceeded to make a 5-0 run to close out the first set, with Brown and Morgan bookending the match with another block. Nyberg led the UK offense at the end of the first frame with four kills on .444 hitting.
After a slow start, down 4-9, the two sides traded blows until UNI had a 12-6 lead. Kentucky went on to take four of the next five points, to trim the lead to three and force a timeout by Northern Iowa. Kentucky continued to roll to a 21-19 lead, before UNI tied up the match at 21. Northern Iowa eventually took the set, 27-25 despite nine kills between middles Brown and Schwarzwalder.
UK came out rolling in the third and didn’t look back, opening on a 6-2 run. The two sides would each make runs until the match was tied at 12. A Kentucky timeout did the trick, as the Wildcats launched a 9-0 spurt to gain control of the set. UNI would try to claw back in, but the lead proved insurmountable as a Schwarzwalder kill sealed the 25-19 victory. The Cats hit a match-high .357 in the set with four player registering three or more digs. Brown, Mack and Schwarzwalder all hit over .450 during the set.
Kentucky opened up the set with a 4-0 run to force a UNI timeout. The teams exchanged points until UNI had a one-point lead at 16-15. From there, the Cats took over, stringing together a 10-4 run to put away the Panthers, 25-20 in the final stanza. Morgan and Mack each had five kills during the set, while Dusek had a set-high 10 digs.
By the Numbers
.357 – The Wildcats hit an astounding .357 in the third set – the best hitting percentage of the match
67 – The team had 67 kills, marking a new season high
31 – Ashley Dusek had 31 digs over the course of the match – her third time this season registering 25 or more digs (Michigan State, 34; Ohio, 28)
5 – Five players registered double-figure kills in Mack (17), Brown (13), Nyberg (12), Schwarzwalder (10) and Morgan (10)
4 – Four players set new career highs during the match: Mack with 17 kills, Nyberg with 12 kills, Morgan with 10 kills and five blocks, and Dusek with seven assists
Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 11-12. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Omaha, Neb., from the Lexington Region. This marks the third time in five seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event. Parking is limited and fans are encouraged to arrive early.