Wildcats Fall Short in NCAA Second Round
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The No. 13 Kentucky volleyball team fell to No. 18 Ohio State, 3-1 (25-23, 18-25, 18-25, 19-25) in a hard-fought battle in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats conclude the 2014 season with a 27-6 record, the most wins in a season since 2011 and the third most under head coach Craig Skinner. The team earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for a school-record 10th consecutive season and advanced to the second round for the fourth year in a row.
"I'm proud that [our] staff had a chance to coach this team," Skinner said. "It's very rare that you have a group of seniors that have the best year of their career, and not just best, but above and beyond performance-wise statistically what they ever have. I think that shows a lot of character. It shows a lot of resiliency. If I was an emotional person this would be the time to cry. Because kids like that mean a lot to your program. You hope the legacy that these two (Jackie Napper and Lauren O'Conner) along with Alyssa Gergins had for us is long lasting and remembered forever."
The loss concludes the historic careers for seniors O'Conner, Napper and Gergins. O'Conner finished her career with 1,204 kills, 12th-most in UK history and earned All-SEC honors as a senior. A two-time SEC Player of the Week in 2014, the Taylor Mill, Ky., native led UK with 379 kills. Napper earned SEC Libero of the Year honors as a senior and recorded a team-high 537 digs. A four-time SEC Defensive Player of the Week in 2014, Napper, from Louisville, had 1,516 digs in her career, second-most in program history in the 25-point rally scoring era. Gergins appeared in eight matches as a senior and was a valuable leader as one of UK's setters.
"We started out hot and then Ohio State and [head coach Geoff Carlston] and his staff did a great job of beating us at things that we typically do well," Skinner said after Saturday's match. "They served as well as any team has against us all year, which created a lot of problems for us offensively after the first set. They passed probably about as well as they have in a long time, as far as video that we've seen. Give them credit for executing those two parts of the game, which coaches all talk about, but it allowed them to be more effective offensively. They did a great job of killing the ball when they dug us. That was the difference in the match."
UK out-blocked OSU, 14-12, but the Buckeyes held a 67-55 advantage in digs and a 61-45 edge in kills. Kentucky was held to .149 hitting, while Ohio State hit .270. UK had three service aces to OSU's four.
The Wildcats were led offensively by junior Shelby Workman and O'Conner with 14 and eight kills, respectively. Junior Morgan Bergren tallied 36 assists, seven kills and finished with six block assists. Defensively, senior Jackie Napper recorded 18 digs and sophomore Anni Thomasson notched 14.
Junior Sara Schwarzwalder had eight blocks with five kills to lead Kentucky's net presence, where five Wildcats posted at least two rejections.
Kentucky opened with a 25-23 win in the first set thanks to an early run. Ohio State opened with a 2-1 lead, but Kentucky quickly answered with the next three points and six of the next seven to take a 7-3 lead. The UK run was aided by a Brown and Workman block and a solo rejection by Thomasson. The Wildcats extended their lead to 10-5 on a Bergren kill, Kentucky's fifth kill on the match on five attempts. UK stretched the lead to six on a Schwarzwalder kill to make it 14-8, but Ohio State responded with a 4-1 run to cut the lead to three at 16-13. Kentucky maintained a three-point lead, which it stretched to four at 20-16 with a Bergren and Schwarzwalder block and again at 22-18 on a Brown kill. The lead never stretched back past four points, but a kill by Workman gave UK a 24-20 lead. The Buckeyes didn't go away though, and scored the next three points to cut the Wildcat lead to one at 24-23. A Bergren kill stopped the OSU run to give UK a 25-23 win.
It was a back-and-forth start to the second set, but after Brown tied the set at 5-5 with a kill, OSU responded with the next three points. Kentucky got back within one at 10-9 thanks to back-to-back blocks, but Ohio State scored the next two to reclaim its three-point lead. A Schwarzwalder kill and a Thomasson ace cut UK's deficit to one at 12-11, but the Buckeyes answered with a 3-1 run, and extended their lead to four at 18-14. The Wildcats got to within three at 20-17, but could not close the gap any further in a 25-18 loss.
The third set began even closer than the second, with six ties and three lead changes when Workman recorded a kill to tie the frame at 6-6. That's when Ohio State went on a 7-2 run to take a 13-8 lead. Kentucky quickly answered with a 3-1 run to cut the deficit to 14-11, thanks to kills by Bergren and Workman. The two teams traded points, with the help of two kills by Workman, until OSU tallied two to regain its five-point lead at 20-15. The Buckeyes' lead became six at 23-16 before UK scored back-to-back points on an O'Conner kill and an Ohio State attack error. OSU closed the set with the final two points for the 25-18 win.
Ohio State jumped out to a 4-1 lead early in the fourth set, but the Wildcats answered to tie the set at 4-4 on a Workman kill. The two teams traded points, with four ties, until Ohio State scored three in a row to take an 11-8 lead. The Buckeyes extended their lead to 17-10 before an OSU attack error and a Workman kill gave UK two of the next three points. Ohio State held its seven-point lead at 20-13, but Kentucky answered with five of the next eight to get to within three at 21-18. The run was capped by a 3-0 spurt, with a Schwarzwalder kill, an ace by Kelsey Wolf and a Bergren and Emily Franklin block. The Wildcats could not get any closer, as the Buckeyes closed the match with four of the final five points for a 25-19 victory.
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