Wildcats Capture Bluegrass Battle Crown with 3-1 Win
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The No. 19 Kentucky volleyball team capped an opening weekend of competition by taking the Bluegrass Battle crown with a 3-1 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday night. Junior middle blocker Sara Schwarzwalder paved the way with 11 kills on .429 hitting and a squad-best five blocks, while junior setter Morgan Bergren narrowly missed on a triple-double with 45 assists, 10 digs and nine kills.
UK improves to 3-0 on the year, while Virginia Tech falls to 1-2. Kentucky returns to action on Friday, Sept. 5 as UK hosts the Commonwealth Classic. Kentucky will take on Northern Iowa at 11 a.m. ET and Southern Cal at 7 p.m. ET. UK will take on Creighton on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET. All matches will be played in Memorial Coliseum.
"We needed a match like that early in the season," UK head coach Craig Skinner said. "Virginia Tech was much better today than yesterday. They really tested our toughness and ability to respond today. I'm happy we played well under pressure in the end. 3-0 is 3-0. The good thing was that it wasn't all easy. That gives us some things to look at on video and really nail down what we need to improve on this week and get ready for Northern Iowa next Friday morning."
Senior Lauren O'Conner and junior Shelby Workman led the team with 12 kills apiece. Sophomore Anni Thomasson registered her second double-double in three matches with 11 kills and 17 digs. Freshmen Emily Franklin and Kaz Brown contributed three and two kills, respectively to aid the offensive attack.
Senior libero Jackie Napper matched Thomasson in the digs' column with 17. With 17 digs in this morning's win over Butler, Napper notched the 1,000 dig of her career. With 1,024 after the opening three matches of the season, she sits fourth in the UK record books in the 25-point rally scoring era.
Bergren added 10 digs, and Workman and sophomore Kelsey Wolf both totaled seven. Schwarzwalder led the way at the net with five rejections, while Bergren and Workman both notched a pair.
Virginia Tech scored the match's opening three points, before Brown found a spot deep in the right corner following an extensive rally for UK's first tally. The Hokies stretched the lead to 7-2 early in the opening frame forcing UK into a timeout. Out of the break, Schwarzwalder connected on a slide. The lead stretched to 11-5 before a 3-0 run pulled the home team back to within four. UK's defense began to pick up and consecutive miscues brought the Cats back to within one at 15-14, forcing the Hokies into a timeout.
The Hokies scored the first point following the break, but an attacking error by the visitors followed by a Brown solo rejection tied the score at 16 apiece. UK took its first lead when the Hokies were in the net at 17-16. A kill and then a solo block, both from O'Conner, lifted UK to a 20-18 edge. It was all the more breathing room the Cats would need en route to a 25-21 opening set victory.
Bergren and O'Conner both laced four kills each and UK teamed up for four blocks in the set for the win. UK totaled 13 kills in the set, but limited the Hokies to a .103 hitting clip for the difference.
The visitors scored the third set's first two points to grab an early lead. Trailing 5-2, Franklin came up with a huge solo block off a scramble at the net to ignite the Wildcats. Once down by as many as four, UK eventually tied the score at eight apiece. This time it was a Schwarzwalder solo rejection. A Bergren kill gave UK its first lead of the match, and from there the two teams would swap points. UK shook loose for a three-point swing capped by a Franklin kill to go up 17-15. The run stretched to a 5-1 swing with UK leading 19-16 late in the frame. Kentucky utilized the run en route to a 25-20 third set win to go up 2-1 in the match.
UK hit .310 in the stanza behind a .310 hitting clip. Schwarzwalder led the way with five kills on .500 hitting. Bergren passed out 14 assists and Thomasson had seven scoops to lead the way.
The teams opened the fourth set by trading points once again. Kentucky eventually broke free for the first two-point lead for any team at 14-12 on a Workman ace. Virginia Tech tied things back up at 15. The Hokies eventually stretched that lead to three at 19-16 before UK scored five of the next seven points to grab a 21-20 edge. Schwarzwalder had a monstrous kill in the run to ignite the crowd. It was all the more breathing room the home team would need as UK claimed the match on a Workman kill cross court for the 25-23 win.
Kentucky limited the Hokies to a .132 attacking percentage, and managed 13 kills of its own. Workman had four in the set and Thomasson chipped in with three.
"I think Sara Schwarzwalder was key and Shelby Workman was key," Skinner said. "We made some defensive plays. Not all calls in volleyball are going to go your way, but you have to find a way to respond to some of those. All in all, I think it was a group effort today in a tough three match set. We've got another one next weekend, so we will see what we've got."
Workman began the scoring in the second set with a kill before Virginia Tech responded with a kill of its own. The teams would exchange points back and forth until a string of points from the Cats lifted the home team to a 13-10 lead. Bergren had a pair of aces, O'Conner a kill and Workman and Schwarzwalder teamed up for a block during the spurt. Virginia Tech opted for a timeout to attempt to spell the threat.
The visitors pulled to within one at 13-12, but Kentucky came up with back-to-back kills for another comfortable margin. Virginia Tech again made a push and eventually knotted the score at 17 apiece. Following a UK timeout, the visitors reclaimed the lead, but Bergren answered with her sixth kill of the match. Three consecutive Wildcat miscues enabled Virginia Tech to grab a three-point edge at 21-18. UK kept fighting and eventually consecutive kills from O'Conner tied the score at 23 apiece. After a see-sawing battle that stretched the set into extra points the Hokies scored two straight to claim the stanza 28-26.
Virginia Tech had 18 kills on a .350 hitting clip, while UK managed 17 hammers on a .239 percentage. O'Conner led the way with five kills in the set.
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