Career Days from O'Conner, Workman Propel Cats
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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Paced by career days from senior Lauren O'Conner and junior Shelby Workman, the 16th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team earned a 3-1 (25-14, 24-26, 25-23, 25-16) win over visiting Northern Iowa in the opening match of the Commonwealth Classic in Memorial Coliseum on Friday. O'Conner and Workman both logged 18 kills in the match, matching O'Conner's career best and setting a new standard for Workman. O'Conner also utilized a career-high .607 attack percentage.
UK improves to 4-0 on the year, while UNI drops to 2-2. Kentucky returns to action in a battle with No. 6 Southern Cal this evening in Memorial Coliseum. Creighton and UNI will play at 5:30 p.m. followed by UK-USC at 7:30 p.m. to continue the Commonwealth Classic.
"We certainly have a lot of respect for Northern Iowa," head coach Craig Skinner said. "One of the things I told the team at the end was that we won one at a fairly good margin and then we had a good lead in game two and we stopped competing. And when you stop competing, then you make errors because you're not dialed in and focused on a particular play and we didn't do a good job of that for the next 25 points. We did a really good job of that in set four so I was glad to see us recover but we have to learn from that."
Junior setter Morgan Bergren dished out 52 assists and added 10 digs in her second-consecutive double-double effort. Bergren led the Cats to a .343 hitting clip as three attackers totaled 15 or more kills in the match. Sophomore Anni Thomasson registered 15 kills on .371 hitting and added 11 digs in the win. Thomasson has now posted a double-double in three of UK's four matches to open the year. Junior middle blocker Sara Schwarzwalder chipped in with seven kills and added a trio of blocks.
Senior libero Jackie Napper totaled a match-high 23 digs which was one shy of meeting a career best mark. Napper has now earned 10 or more digs in all four matches this season and topped the 20-dig plateau eight times in her career.
After UNI took the opening set's first point, UK scored four-straight to grab an early advantage. O'Conner had a pair of kills and teamed up with Schwarzwalder for a block to highlight the run. UK stretched the lead to 9-4 and forced the Panthers into a timeout. In the early going, the Wildcats were utilizing a .500 hitting percentage to widen their lead. UK extended its advantage to 14-5 following a Thomasson ace. UK easily claimed a 25-14 opening set victory with a Kaz Brown kill capping the frame.
UK totaled a .577 hitting percentage with six players registering at least one kill. The Blue and White notched 17 total kills in the stanza with O'Conner notching five and Thomasson recording four. Napper led the way with four digs to lead the defensive effort.
O'Conner and Schwarzwalder teamed up for a block to begin the scoring in the third set. Schwarzwalder got in on an early kill to give UK a 3-1 lead. A hitting error by the Panthers lifted Kentucky to a 7-4 edge. UNI eventually fought back to tie the score at 10 apiece. O'Conner's season-high 13th kill of the match gave the lead right back to the home team. Workman then followed with her second-straight double-figure match with her 10th kill to give UK a 12-10 edge. UNI clawed back and tied the score at 18, but two plays from Schwarzwalder gave UK a two-point lead back. The junior first came up with a kill and then teamed up with Workman for a block. The breathing room was all the more UK would need en route to a 25-23 third set win and a 2-1 edge in the match.
UK's offensive sizzle returned in the third frame as the Wildcats posted a season-high 20 kills on a .410 hitting clip. Thomasson registered seven kills and O'Conner added five. Napper logged seven digs in the stanza.
O'Conner's 17th kill of the match started the scoring in the fourth frame. The Panthers fired back for consecutive kills to take a 2-1 lead early in the set. A Thomasson kill tied the score at four and from there the teams would exchange points. A three-point swing induced by miscues by UNI enabled the Cats to take a 13-10 edge and force the Panthers into a timeout. Out of the break, Workman laced her career-best 14th kill of the night. Following the 10th dig of the match from Thomasson, Workman added to her kill total with a hammer down the line to give UK a 20-15 edge late in the fourth set. UK would eventually take the set by scoring five of the stanza's final six points for the 25-16 win.
UK totaled 13 kills on .303 hitting while limiting the Panthers to a mere .075 clip. Workman exploded for eight kills in the set to lead the Blue and White. Napper had seven digs to lead the defensive effort.
Workman laced a cross-court shot to open the scoring in the second set. A pair of aces in consecutive points lifted the Blue and White to a 5-1 advantage forcing UNI into an early timeout. The Panthers pulled to within three at 12-9, but UK immediately responded with O'Conner's eighth kill of the match. A three-point swing in favor of the home team lifted UK to a 16-11 advantage. UNI utilized a 6-1 spurt to even the score at 17 apiece.
Following a UK timeout, the teams traded points until O'Conner laced a shot down the line followed by a Panthers' error enabled the home team to grab a 23-22 lead. A serving error followed by a hitting error gave UNI set point, but Workman came up with a kill off the outstretched arms of the Panthers' block to extend the stanza. Consecutive miscues enabled the visitors to take the second set by a 26-24 score.
After an explosive offensive start, UK managed just a .154 hitting clip in the second frame, committing eight hitting errors. Four service errors also limited UK's firepower. O'Conner was terrific again with six kills on .600 hitting, while Workman added four hammers.
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