Seniors Help UK Claw Back to Set-Up SEC Showdown
Nov. 20, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Trailing 2-0 on Senior Day, the 16th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team received inspired performances from its senior trio to capture a dramatic 3-2 (18-25, 26-28, 25-23, 25-21, 15-13) victory over Arkansas on Sunday. The win sets up a showdown with 14th-ranked Tennessee on Wednesday, Nov. 23 for a chance to earn a share of the Southeastern Conference crown.
The senior trio of Becky Pavan, Gretchen Giesler and Ann Armes enforced their will to win on the Wildcats in aiding an improbable comeback effort to remain perfect on the season in matches that go five sets. With the victory, Kentucky improves to 26-4 and 17-2 in SEC action equaling a program-record for conference victories under the direction of Craig Skinner. Arkansas falls to 18-12 and 10-9 in league play.
"This group is just an absolute team," Skinner said. "They will each other to win. They want each other to do well and they are not worried about who gets credit."
With their backs again the wall the Wildcats seemed at their best storming back to capture the final three sets of the match including a thrilling 15-13 win in the decisive fifth frame.
UK raced out to an early 4-0 advantage thanks to kills from Pavan and junior Ashley Frazier. Arkansas responded with a 4-0 run of its own to knot the score at five apiece. From there the teams exchanged points back-and-forth answering each other kill-for-kill. Arkansas earned a lead at 13-12, but sophomore Whitney Billings quickly tied things back up for the home team.
A stifling defensive effort that induced 15 blocks and 64 digs for the match, forced the Razorbacks into an erroneous attack to earn match-point. Kentucky then turned to one if its youngest players on the court for the final swing and freshman Lauren O'Conner delivered her eighth kill of the match non more important than the match-clinching hammer.
Frazier led the offensive effort with 15 kills. Billings charted a double-double effort with 12 kills and 13 digs, and Pavan was the third player to reach double-figures with 11 kills including three in the final stanza.
O'Conner posted eight kills with Armes notching seven and Giesler adding six. Junior setter Christine Hartmann dished out 54 assists and added four blocks to the winning cause.
Pavan led the defensive effort at the net with seven rejections as UK had six different players record three more blocks in the match. Junior Stephanie Klefot contributed 16 digs and has now totaled 10 or more in a match in all 19 conference matches. Sophomore Jessi Greenberg had perhaps the best match of her career with 16 scoops, one shy of matching a career-high, to provide an additional spark to UK's defensive effort. Freshman Jackie Napper added nine digs and an assist in UK's victory.
Trailing 2-0, UK needed to win the third set to keep the match alive. Kentucky responded with a tight 25-23 third set victory behind five kills from Frazier and five digs from Greenberg. The set featured 10 tie score and four lead changes.
Kentucky garnered the early lead with an ace from Frazier to make the score 5-3. Arkansas responded and eventually earned a three-point edge as late as 19-16. Kentucky capped the frame on a 9-4 run to lift 1,188 UK fans to their feet. In the run, Pavan and Billings both posted a pair of kills and Klefot added an ace.
The fourth set belonged to the Wildcats by a 25-21 margin. Giesler sparked the offensive effort with five kills and Greenberg once again led the defensive effort with six scoops.
Kentucky earned a 1-0 advantage off of a powerful Frazier kill and would never relinquish the lead, although Arkansas managed to knot the score including a 9-9 tie. UK then charted a 5-0 run with Giesler notching three consecutive kills in the run to break free for a 13-10 edge. UK also managed to put together four blocks in the frame to help its own cause. Giesler forced the deciding fifth stanza with her fifth kill of the set.
Arkansas earned a 2-0 lead into the locker room by earning 25-18 and 28-26 set scores to begin the match.
UK will now travel to Knoxville, Tenn., for the regular season finale and a chance to capture the SEC title on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET. Tennessee has already clinched at least a share of the crown with a win over LSU today. However, with a win over the Lady Vols, Kentucky would own the head-to-head tie breaker and claim the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
"We are excited," Skinner said. "Tennessee is a great team, and they have been all year long. It's going to be a tough match, but you want to be in position to win it, and we are."
Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 9-10. UK is one of four sites selected for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas, from the Lexington Region.
Opening night matches are scheduled for 5 and 7 p.m. ET. Saturday's final is set for a 4:30 p.m. ET first serve.
Tickets are now on sale through the UK Ticket Office. All-Session Tickets are reserved for all ages at $14. General Admission tickets for adults are priced at $12 and students or seniors' general admission is slated for $8.
Single session tickets are priced at $8 for reserved for all ages. General admission for adults is priced at $7, with students and seniors priced at $5. Youth single session tickets are $4.
For tickets or more information feel free to call, 1-800-928-CATS.
Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the UK volleyball team and all of Kentucky's 22 teams.