Defense Leads UK to 3-1 Win Over Xavier

Sept. 20, 2014

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - A strong defensive effort led the No. 15 Kentucky volleyball team to its fourth consecutive victory with a 3-1 (24-26, 25-20, 25-23, 25-18) win over Xavier Saturday night in Memorial Coliseum.

In their final nonconference match before the beginning of Southeastern Conference play, the Wildcats (10-2) used 11 blocks and a 24-dig effort from senior Jackie Napper to hold Xavier (7-5) to .120 hitting, the second-lowest by a UK opponent this season.

"Once the blocking got involved, it aided and challenged their hitters to hit different shots," UK head coach Craig Skinner said of UK's defense. "It's really a presence of our block at the net that makes a big difference. When Jackie comes up with 24 digs, that's a pretty good night for her"

Napper led the way defensively with 24 digs, two shy of her career high. Junior Shelby Workman added 13, sophomore Kelsey Wolf had 11 and sophomore Anni Thomasson 10 in the win. Redshirt freshman Emily Franklin's seven blocks were a match high, while senior Lauren O'Conner had five.

Offensively, Thomason's 14 kills on .344 hitting were a team high, and she added a team-best two service aces. In four close sets, the sophomore's strikes, with just three errors, came at crucial times for the UK offense.

"She did a great job at attacking the line and hitting the corner and creating kills with her speed, roll shots and tips," Skinner said "She's a very smart player and uses her IQ of the game to score for us."

O'Conner added 13 kills and junior setter Morgan Bergren had a career-best 11 kills and dished out 37 assists for her fifth double-double of the year. It marked the first double-double of her career with double-digit kills. Workman added nine kills, while Franklin and junior Sara Schwarzwalder each had three.

As a team, the Wildcats hit .190, but limited Xavier to .120 attacking, including a -.030 in the final frame. UK had 11 blocks compared to XU's five, while each team had four service aces.

SEC play begins for Kentucky Wednesday at LSU. The contest begins at 9 p.m. ET and will air on ESPNU. After UK travels to South Carolina on Sept. 28, it returns home to host Alabama on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. and Texas A&M on Oct. 5 at 6 p.m.

After Xavier claimed a close first-set win, the second set was as tight at the beginning as in the first set. UK jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but could not extend its advantage further. Xavier took a lead at 12-11, the first lead change of the set after five ties. The Wildcats responded by scoring the next four points to go ahead 15-12, the largest lead for either team in the stanza.  UK extended its lead to five at 20-15 on a 9-3 run, thanks to two kills apiece from Bergren and O'Conner. The five-point cushion was all the Wildcats needed to close out a 25-20 win and even the match at 1-1.

O'Conner and Workman each had four kills, while Thomasson, Bergren and Schwarzwalder added two apiece. Napper had seven digs in the second set and Bergren, Thomasson and Wolf each had four. As a team, the Wildcats hit just .093 with 14 kills, but the UK defense held Xavier to .053 hitting and eight kills.

A Thomasson kill gave UK an early 1-0 lead in the third set, which it extended to 6-3 and 8-5.  The Wildcats maintained its three-point lead until it was 12-9, but couldn't extend the advantage. Xavier rallied back to take its first lead of the set at 16-15.

Kentucky's deficit lasted just one point though, as the Wildcats answered to score five of the next six points. The run was aided by three Thomasson kills, to give UK a 20-17 lead and force Xavier to use its final timeout. Out of the timeout, the Musketeers scored five of the next six to take a 22-21 lead. UK went on to win four of the final five points to regain the lead and take a 2-1 lead in the match with a 25-23 win in the third set.

Kentucky was led offensively by Thomasson's six kills on .500 hitting. Bergren and O'Conner each added three kills, Bergren on .500 hitting to go along with nine assists. O'Conner and Franklin teamed up on all four of UK's blocks in the set. Defensively, Napper had five digs and Workman four.

Workman got UK going with a kill to open the fourth set, and the Wildcats opened up an early 5-2 lead. Xavier scored the next two points to get within one at 5-4, but Kentucky answered in a big way. UK scored two of the next three before going on a 7-0 run to take a 14-5 lead. Thomasson notched two kills and XU committed two errors in the run.

Out of the UK run, the Musketeers responded with a 5-0 run of their own. Kentucky wouldn't let Xavier get any closer though, and UK answered right back with seven of the next nine points to lead 22-12. While Xavier tallied the next four points, UK's lead was enough to secure a 25-18 win and claim its 10th win of the season.

Thomasson once again led the UK offensive attack with four kills on .500 hitting, while Bergren added three kills, eight assists and a service ace. Thomasson also added two blocks, while Bergren, Schwarzwalder and Franklin each posted one block assist. Napper had eight digs and Workman three to aid the defensive effort. UK hit .229 with 12 kills in the final frame and held the Xavier offense to eight kills on -.030 hitting.

Xavier claimed a 26-24 win in the opening set that featured 19 ties and six lead changes. The set was knotted at 3-3 early before XU took its first lead at 4-3, but the Wildcats responded with the next three points, including back-to-back aces from Thomasson to claim a 6-4 lead. The Musketeers scored six of the next eight to take a 10-8 advantage, but UK again answered to tie the set at 11 and again at 13 before going ahead 14-13. Xavier reclaimed the lead at 16-15, but the Wildcats wouldn't let the deficit grow to more than a point until they took the lead at 21-20 on a Bergren and Schwarzwalder block. Out of a 23-all tie, UK took a 24-23 lead before the Musketeers won the final three points for the win.

O'Conner led UK with five kills on .455 hitting in the first set, while Bergren added three kills on .600 hitting to go along with 10 assists, two block assists and two digs. Wolf added five digs and Napper and Workman each had four. Schwarzwalder assisted on two of UK's three blocks.

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