Wildcats Claw Back for Five-Set Win Over VCU

Sep 6, 2013

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The 21st-ranked Kentucky volleyball team fended off two deficits for a thrilling comeback victory in five sets 3-2 (24-26, 25-15, 20-25, 25-19, 15-12) over visiting VCU to begin the eighth-annual Kentucky Classic in front of 1,439 fans in Memorial Coliseum on Friday night.

The Wildcats faced set deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 before capturing the final two frames in dramatic fashion for the opening win of the home schedule. UK improves to 2-2 on the year, while VCU drops to 4-1 on the season.

"First of all, VCU is a very good team," UK coach Craig Skinnersaid. "After seeing them on video this week as a coaching staff, we knew it was going to be a tough match. Regardless of what's happened in the past, that's a very capable team of winning a lot of matches this year and we were fortunate enough to come out on top after getting down 2-1. This week we made the plays at the end and were able to pull it out."

Kentucky returns to the hardwood for a pair of matches on Saturday. UK takes on Liberty at 11 a.m. and will conclude the weekend with East Tennessee State at 7 p.m. ET.

Junior Lauren O'Conner paced the attack with a season-high 14 kills on .355 hitting. Senior Whitney Billings logged her fourth-consecutive double-double effort with 13 kills and 14 digs. Sophomore setter Morgan Bergren narrowly missed on a triple double with 36 assists, nine digs and seven kills. Sophomores Sara Schwarzwalder and Shelby Workmancontributed nine and seven kills, respectively.

Leading the defensive charge was junior Jackie Napper with a season-best 19 digs. Bergren paced the effort at the net with a squad-high five blocks. O'Conner and senior Alexandra Morgan each chipped in with four apiece. Freshman Anni Thomassonhad a team-high three service aces.

In the decisive fifth frame, the Rams jumped in front by a 3-1 margin. UK raced back scoring the next two points as O'Conner sliced consecutive kills. The visitors would extend their advantage to 8-5 as the teams exchanged sides. However, Kentucky would utilize a 3-0 run highlighted by a block from the Bergren-Schwarzwalder tandem to even the score at eight apiece. VCU scored the next two points, before UK mounted a 4-0 run to grab a 12-10 edge. VCU would again respond and knot things at 12. However, the home team struck for the match's final three points with Billings smacking a kill for the 15-12 victory.

UK posted nine kills in the frame with O'Conner leading the charge with three. Napper and Billings each logged three digs in the set. "We challenged them a little bit (in sets four and five)," Skinner said. "You have to step up and you have to 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 we had to match that."

Kentucky trailed 2-1 and needed to capture a win in the fourth frame to extend the match. Feeling the support from the rowdy crowd the Blue and White struck for a 25-19 win. Kentucky notched 15 kills on a match-high .323 hitting clip. O'Conner was at her best with six hammers on .400 hitting to pace the attack. The set was highlighted by a 10-1 run to conclude the stanza for the home team. With Napper serving, UK struck for three kills and flustered the VCU attack into four errors. Morgan and Bergren teamed up for the set-clinching block.

Kentucky quickly raced out to a 4-0 advantage to begin the second set and never looked back. UK had six blocks in the stanza with O'Conner turning in three rejections to lead all scorers. VCU was harassed into a negative .083 hitting percentage and committed 10 hitting errors as UK rallied to even the match at one set apiece into the break.

VCU captured the opening set of the match by a 26-24 score as UK surrendered a five-point lead late in the stanza. The Rams logged a 25-20 third set win to go ahead 2-1 in the match, setting the stage for Kentucky's comeback effort.

Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Seattle, Wash., from the Lexington Region. This marks the second time in three seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event.

Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the Kentucky volleyball team and all 22 varsity sports.