Comeback Cats Upset Florida; Take SEC Lead

Nov. 16, 2008

Box Score | Quotes | Photo Gallery 

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Trailing 12th-ranked Florida 2-1, the No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats stormed back to take the final two sets and upset the 17-time SEC Champions in front of the fifth-largest crowd ever at Memorial Coliseum, Sunday. The five-set victory positions UK into first place by a half of a game in the SEC standings with two matches remaining in the regular season.

Kentucky (25-4, 16-2) earned set victories of 25-23, 14-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-6, to snap a 38-match losing streak to Florida (21-3, 15-2).

"If that is not exciting volleyball then I don't know what is," Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said. "We had a few moments together as a team in the locker room, and it was awesome for us."

Freshman Becky Pavan was sensational in the biggest match of her young career. The first-year player led the team with a career-best 14 kills on an impressive .481 hitting percentage. Pavan also added a pair of blocks and an ace to lead the team with 16 points. Junior Sarah Rumely enjoyed another all-around performance accounting for 46 assists, six kills, nine digs and four blocks.

Sophomore Blaire Hiler also had a career-day, matching a season-high of 11 kills while adding a career-best six scoops in UK's victory.

Sophomore Lauren Rapp was the other UK player to reach double-figure kills with 10, as she also added nine digs and a block. Her classmate Sarah Mendoza pitched in with 20 digs, eight kills and three blocks. Senior Queen Nzenwa once again proved to be a difference maker at the net with nine kills, and a team-high four blocks. Junior BriAnne Sauer paced UK's back-line defense with a match-high 21 digs.

With their backs against the wall, Kentucky once again roared back with an impressive fourth set victory to force the fifth and deciding frame. UK jumped out to an early 2-0 lead behind a pair of service aces from Rumely. The two squads traded points back and forth until UK broke open for a two-point edge at 10-8 off a Florida serving miscue. Florida once again pulled within one at 14-13 after a UK service error, but the Wildcats used a string of three-straight points to begin to shake the Gators at 17-14. Florida would fire back to tie the score at 19, but Rapp came up with a huge kill to ignite the crowd and give UK the lead once again. UK got a pair of kills from Rumely to end the set with a 25-20 win and force the deciding fifth set.

In the fifth set, it was all Kentucky with the noisy crowd behind them. Rumely got things going with a tap that found a spot for a 1-0 lead. Pavan and sophomore Blaire Hiler got in on the action with back-to-back kills for a 3-1 advantage. Florida rattled off the next two points to knot the score, but Pavan once again answered with a kill to give UK a lead it would never relinquish. The freshman then earned a service ace, followed by an attacking error by the Gators and UK suddenly had a 7-4 lead and forced Florida into a timeout. Out of the break, Florida tallied a point and then was called for a ball-handling error with UK taking the 8-5 edge into the switch.

Mendoza followed the short break with a powerful slam which began a three-point rally for the Blue and White. Florida would earn their final point in the stanza on a kill by Kelly Murphy to make the score 11-6, but then UK steamrolled to the finish. Nzenwa fired down a kill, followed by one from Rapp and Mendoza. In fitting fashion, Pavan gave UK the upset victory with a kill that found its way into the crowd after bouncing off a Gator player.

"It wasn't real to me. I had to look at the scoreboard to make sure that we were only going to 15," said Rapp of the fifth set. "It is something that I will never forget and it will be replayed in my head over and over again. I am just so excited. As a kid you always look at all the great athletes that play well in tough situations and you never imagine that it could be you."

Memorial Coliseum was packed with 3,512 raucous fans--the largest crowd in the Craig Skinner era. Their support for the Blue and White clearly was a factor in the upset victory.

"I have to thank them for everything they did," said Nzenwa. "I thank them for coming out and supporting us. That is the best crowd that we have had all season, and they were a big part of this win."

Kentucky opened the match with a 25-23 set victory. In a set that was indicative of the entire match, the two squads were evenly matched statistically. Rapp got off to a hot start with six kills in the stanza to pace the UK attack.

The teams traded points back and forth until UK grabbed a three-point edge at 13-10 after Mendoza laid down a kill. But, Florida came back to tie the score at 16--which was followed by consecutive points from the Cats. The score once again was tied at 19, and Florida had an attacking error to give UK a 20-19 lead it would take into the final stretch. Rapp ended things for the Blue and White with a kill in the middle of the floor to give Kentucky the early 1-0 set lead.

Florida captured the next two sets by scores of 25-14 and 25-20, forcing Kentucky to rally in the fourth set.

"This is one of those great moments that you will never forget," said Rumely. "You will never be able to replay everything that happened back in your mind. But, it will stick with us forever. This is such an exciting time for Kentucky volleyball and for the state of Kentucky."

Kentucky hits the road for a single match next week as they travel to take on Auburn Friday. Match time is slated for an 8 p.m. ET start. UK will then end things at home as they hold a date with Tennessee the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 28).

"As a coach you think about Auburn next," said Skinner. "We have to play them at Auburn and they gave Florida a battle last time. We now have an opportunity to share the conference championship, but as this team has done all year it is one step at a time.

I would love to see a big crowd again this season. The fans were incredible, and I am sure there were some people out there that didn't know a lot about volleyball. But their energy and excitement for the Big Blue was very evident today."