No. 13 Florida Tops No. 10 Kentucky in Back-and-Forth Battle

Nov. 22, 2009

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - For the first time this season the 10th-ranked Kentucky volleyball team dropped a match on a day of the week other than Wednesday when the 13th-ranked Florida Gators topped the home team in a back-and-forth battle Sunday at Memorial Coliseum. Florida posted a 3-1 (31-29, 25-23, 24-26, 25-21) win over the Wildcats in a match that featured two sets that needed extra points to decide, 33 tie scores and 14 lead changes.

A victory would have helped the Blue and White (27-3, 17-2) clinch at least a share of the Southeastern Conference title in front of a home crowd of 2,841 fans on Senior Day. Despite the setback the Wildcats can still earn an SEC crown for the first time since 1988 with a win at Tennessee in the regular season finale on Wednesday.

Prior to the match Kentucky honored its senior class comprised of Brooke Bartek, Sarah Rumely and BriAnne Sauer. The trio has led the Wildcats to four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and an increase in wins in every season.

"Those seniors have given us so much," said head coach Craig Skinner said. "It's not about one match for them. It's about an entire career. The wins the seniors have given us have been unbelievable.

"We put ourselves in a position. We know what we have to do and it's about stepping up and making that happen. Unfortunately we didn't get it done today. There's an opportunity Wednesday and there is no other team I would rather be coaching than this one."

Sophomore Becky Pavan led the offensive attack for the Wildcats with a career-high 17 kills. Pavan used a .364 hitting percentage in her feat. Junior Lauren Rapp added 15 hammers and classmate Sarah Mendoza charted 12 kills to give the Wildcats three players with double-figures in the kill column. Junior Blaire Hiler just missed the double-figure mark with nine kills in the match.

Rumely passed out 40 assists despite missing the final set and a half due to illness. Redshirt freshman Christine Hartmann filled in impressively for the Blue and White with a career-best 13 assists, eight digs and a kill.

Defensively, Sauer continued to be the rock for the back line as she tallied a team-best 23 scoops. Freshman Stephanie Klefot contributed 14, while Mendoza adding 15 for a double-double. Rapp led the front line with four blocks.

The Blue and White had their chances in every single set as it reached 23 points faster than Florida in all four sets. The back-and-forth battle began in the very first frame when the Gators outlasted the Wildcats in 31-29 set affair. It was the longest set played this season by Kentucky.

Kentucky led the entire set until Florida was able to tie the score at 23. The Gators then earned a set-point on an ace, but Hiler fired back for the Blue and White and laced a ball into a gap in the defense to save set point for the home team. Kentucky would then earn set-point when Rumely and Pavan teamed up for a rejection. Kentucky mishandled a set attempt to allow Florida to save set point. The Blue and White would then go on to have four more opportunities to put the Gators away in the opening frame, but Florida continued to fight back. The visitors claimed a 31-29 opening set victory on a kill and a block to end.

Florida opened the match with a .279 attack percentage while the Wildcats charted a .260 hitting percentage. UK bested the Gators in the kill column 20-19. Both squads committed seven hitting errors and a pair of serving miscues. Florida won the blocking battle, but just by a 3-2 margin.

It was Kentucky's turn to overcome a deficit in the second stanza as Florida came out of the gate to take an early 7-1 advantage. The Blue and White would fight back to eventually knot the score at 21. A Florida attacking error gave UK its first lead of the set at 22-21. Pavan then struck a ball that the home crowd thought grazed a Florida attacker but the point would be ruled in the visitor's favor. Pavan immediately fired back with a slam into the center of the defense to lift Kentucky to a 23-22 advantage. Florida answered by taking the final three points for a 2-0 lead into intermission with a 25-23 set two victory.

Pavan paced the Blue and White attack with eight kills in the second set on a thunderous .429 attacking percentage. UK out-hit the Gators by a .214-.146 margin while also forcing Florida into seven hitting errors. However, Florida benefited from three UK service errors and a trio of blocks to outlast the home team.

Trailing by a two sets, Kentucky began the third set without its floor leader in Rumely. Florida scored an ace to open the score and took an early lead, but the Wildcats were able to tie the score at seven. The stanza would be a constant back-and-forth battle with Florida only able to gain a three-point advantage at 13-10. Kentucky tied the score at 17 once again and the trading of points continued. UK charted three straight points to give the home team a 22-20 lead behind kills from Hiler, Rapp and Pavan. Florida made things interesting when it tied the score at 24 in large part thanks to two poor attacks by the home team. Kentucky wasted little time in response with a Rapp kill and then Florida sailed a ball long to give the Wildcats life with a 26-24 third set win.

Rapp had six kills in the set and UK hit just .167. Florida was not much better with a .173 hitting clip. UK totaled 17 kills while Florida put down 15. It was the Wildcats this time that benefited from three service errors by the Gators.

Florida once again opened the scoring when UK took an erroneous attack. Kentucky battled back and had a tie at 11, but Florida would eventually stretch its lead to 19-14. The Wildcats just could not find a way to claw back into things despite saving two late set-points. Florida posted a kill on the deciding play to give the visitors a 25-21 set four win and the match.

The Gators out-hit the home team .213 to .132. Kentucky only had 10 kills in the stanza, while Florida tallied 17.

Kentucky's only other losses this season have come on a Wednesday. Florida is the 18-time defending conference champion and came into the match with the Blue and White already mathematically out of contention for its unprecedented 19th straight crown. With an LSU win today, the Wildcats need a victory over Tennessee to clinch a share of the title with the Tigers. UK holds the tie-break with the Western Conference champion because the Wildcats captured both head-to-head meetings this season.

UK wraps up the regular season in Knoxville on Wednesday, Nov. 24. Match time is set for a 7 p.m. ET start.

For the most up-to-date news, highlights and features about the Kentucky volleyball team please visit UKathletics.com.