Offense Powers Wildcats Past Texas A&M in Four
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The 23rd-ranked Kentucky volleyball team utilized an explosive offense to capture a 3-1 (25-18, 23-25, 25-21, 28-26) win over visiting Texas A&M in front of 1,762 fans in Memorial Coliseum on Sunday. Kentucky notched 69 total kills and a .308 attacking clip to pull away from the Aggies. Freshman Leah Edmond with 25 kills and sophomore Olivia Dailey with 60 assists both set new career highs to help pace the attack.
The duo guided the Wildcats to a program-record 69 kills in the win. It’s the most in a four-set match in the 25-point rally scoring era. UK previously also broke the three-set total in a win over Ole Miss earlier this season.
With the win, Kentucky improves to 22-6 overall and 15-2 against Southeastern Conference competition. Texas A&M, who is receiving votes in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, falls to 19-8 on the year and 13-3 in league play.
Today’s match marked the final regular-season home match of the year for the Blue and White. UK will conclude the season at Tennessee on Wednesday. First serve is slated for 9 p.m. ET and the match will air live on ESPNU.
“(I’m) Proud, as a coach,” head coach Craig Skinner said. “Against good teams, you have to be pretty stable mentally. That’s a team that can easily get you out of your rhythm. There was a wave of momentum throughout that whole match. I’m proud of our team for sticking to it. We had a chance to break, and we didn’t.”
Kentucky’s attack was nearly unstoppable as the Wildcats notched 15 or more kills in all four sets, including 19 or more in the final two frames. Kentucky hit .500 in the 25-21 third-set win. UK’s defense was stout and its blocking (12 combined rejections) was also a pivotal component of the victory.
“We’ve evolved a lot from August until now,” Skinner said. “The evolution of a team is learning how to execute a skill, learning how to play together and learning how to play under pressure and when things are going against you. We took a step forward today, because there were times today when things weren’t going our way and we kept fighting and battling and willed ourselves to win.”
Edmond became the fourth player in the 25-point rally scoring era to amass 25 or more kills in a match, joining current senior Anni Thomasson and former All-Americans Whitney Billings and Sarah Mendoza to achieve the feat. The freshman from Lexington, Kentucky, was no bigger than her eight kills in the fourth set. She scored UK’s final two points to cap off the win.
“She’s fearless,” Skinner said. “She made some mistakes, but then came right back and put the ball away. That’s what great competitors do. Our team has great faith and trust in her. She had a great match.”
Dailey also joined an elite club as one of four setters in UK’s 25-point rally era scoring history to total 60 assists in a single match. The others to do so include Sarah Rumely, Elizabeth Koberstein and Morgan Bergren. The 60 assists in a four-set match tops Bergren’s output of 55 vs. Louisville on Sept. 9, 2014 as a new program record. She narrowly missed out on her second-straight double-double with nine digs.
Not to be overlooked, was an exceptional all-around match by junior Kaz Brown. The Waterloo, Iowa, native logged 12 kills on a team-best .500 hitting percentage. Brown also added a match-high seven blocks.
“Kaz was ready in practice yesterday,” Skinner said. “She decided she wanted to come and perform. She was up for the task and helped carry our team.”
Sophomore Brooke Morgan reached double-figure kill numbers with 10 hammers on a .444 attacking percentage. She also contributed four blocks to the win. Junior Emily Franklin produced eight kills on a .421 clip and contributed three blocks of her own and a pair of aces. Junior Darian Mack was the fourth Wildcat to reach double-digit kills with 11 total kills, two digs and a solo rejection that aided a momentum swing late in the fourth stanza for the Cats.
Defensively, junior libero Ashley Dusek led the charge with 17 digs and three assists. Thomasson added nine scoops and an assist, while sophomore McKenzie Watson contributed eight digs and a match-high three aces.
Prior to the match, Thomasson and fellow senior Sharay Barnes were honored as a part of Senior Day festivities.
Franklin began the scoring with an ace for the Cats. A couple of kills from Brown, as well as UK’s junior teaming with Edmond for a block lifted UK to an early 4-1 edge. Edmond earned her second kill of the match – and first from the back row – to give Kentucky a six-point edge at 10-4, forcing the Aggies into an early timeout. Franklin tooled the block off of a slide and the Wildcats continued to maintain their advantage at 13-8. Texas A&M pulled to within two at 16-14 and it was the Wildcats’ turn to take a timeout. Mack picked up a kill following the break to spell, but A&M answered with a block to keep the score close. After two impressive rallies from both sides of the net, the Wildcats converted both and managed to increase their advantage to 20-15. An ace from Watson closed the set for UK’s advantage by a 25-18 margin. UK posted 15 kills for a .200 percentage. The Aggies’ managed just nine on a .030 clip. Edmond and Brown paced the attack with four kills apiece, while UK had four blocks in the frame.
The Aggies’ reversed course to open the second stanza – this time taking a 3-1 lead. Back-to-back kills from Morgan and Edmond enabled the home team to knot the score at three apiece. The Aggies immediately reclaimed a multi-point advantage. Edmond converted an overpass to once again tie the set, this time at eight. UK kept up the momentum and Franklin scored off a quick set to give the Cats their first lead of the frame. Texas A&M scored the next two to recapture the lead and the back-and-forth battle was on from there. After the score was tied at 11 apiece, the Aggies scored each of the next three points to claim a 14-11 edge, prompting a UK timeout. Kentucky pulled to within 18-17, but the Aggies would earn set point at 24-20. UK would go on to score the next three points – kills by Edmond and Mack, and an ace from Edmond to enable the Cats to pull to with 24-23. Texas A&M opted to take its final timeout and would score the next point out of the break for a 25-23 win to even the match at one set apiece.
Morgan tallied the first point after intermission with a cross-court kill. She was followed by a Brown kill who utilized the block to her advantage, going high off the hands. A big-time dig from Dailey allowed Brown to quickly swing and convert another kill for a 6-2, UK lead. Edmond’s 11th kill of the night lifted the Cats to an 11-6 advantage. The Aggies would take a timeout after an ace from Watson extended the lead to six at 13-7. Out of the break, Watson added her third ace of the match to extend the home team’s lead. Texas A&M pulled back to within four at 18-14, and Kentucky opted for a timeout. The Cats were the first to push 20 after the Aggies had climbed back to within one at 19-18, but a service error by the visitors once again gave UK a multi-point advantage. Morgan and Brown teamed up for a Big Blue Block and the Wildcats’ lead swelled to 21-18, forcing the Aggies to burn their final timeout. The Aggies would not go away and pulled back to within two at 22-20, but Edmond came up with back-to-back smashing kills to give the Cats set point. After a service error, Dailey returned to Edmond who promptly settled things in favor of the Cats by a 25-21 margin. UK pounded away for 19 kills on a blistering .500 average, however the Aggies managed 17 hammers on a .483 clip. UK’s two blocks and a pair of aces proved the difference.
For the second time in the match, Franklin was the stanza’s first point scorer – this time converting a kill off the slide. A back-and-forth battle ensued from there until the Aggies grabbed a two-point edge at 5-3. Texas A&M’s lead eventually expanded to 8-3, and UK chose to take an early timeout. Out of the break, Edmond quelled the Aggies’ spurt with a kill off the block. Morgan guided the Wildcats back to within one at 10-9, with a kill immediately following a block in which she teamed up with Franklin to convert. Edmond would eventually tie the score at 11 apiece, and then a see-sawing affair would ensue. An ace from Franklin followed by a Brown kill off a quick-set lifted UK to a 14-12 edge. A block from the Brown-Dailey duo and then a backrow kill from Edmond gave the Cats a 17-14 advantage, forcing the Aggies into a timeout. Mack then produced a kill and a solo block on consecutive plays and the Wildcats’ lead swelled to 20-15. A late push by the visitors prompted Kentucky to take a timeout with the score 21-18 in favor of the Cats. Texas A&M would not yield and eventually pulled back to within one at 21-20. With UK in a need of a point, Dailey went to the steady hand of Edmond who matched her season high with her 21st kill of the day. Texas A&M would tie the score at 23 apiece and eventually earn set point behind a 3-0 run. Edmond came up big to stave off the win with a cross-court shot. The freshman then teamed up with Brown for a rejection, to turn the tables, and give UK match point – but A&M would not go quietly and tied the score once again. The two teams would trade points once again, until UK’s star freshman capped the match with back-to-back kills for a 28-26, Wildcats’ win. The final set saw the Wildcats accumulate 20 total kills on a .312 hitting clip. Texas A&M managed 17 on a .204 average.
BY THE NUMBERS
60 – Assists for Olivia Dailey which is the most in a four-set match in the 25-point rally scoring era
25 – Career-high kills for Leah Edmond who became one of just four players to post that total in a match in the rally scoring era
12 – Kills from junior Kaz Brown to couple with a team-high seven blocks
4 – Total players who logged double-digit kills as the Wildcats broke a school record for most kills in a four-set match with 69
3 – Aces from sophomore McKenzie Watson
2 – Seniors in Anni Thomasson and Sharay Barnes who ended their careers with a win in Memorial in their final regular-season home match