Volleyball Takes NCAA Stage Against Michigan State on Friday
Dec. 3, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The 13th ranked Kentucky volleyball team will begin a new season with the start of the NCAA Tournament at Memorial Coliseum on Friday night. After posting 27 regular season victories the Blue and White (27-4) will begin with a clean slate for a chance at the coveted National Championship trophy. Up first for UK is a showdown with Michigan State (17-15) at 7 p.m. on the home court of the Wildcats.
For the second consecutive season Kentucky was chosen to play host to the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. In the first match of the day the tournament's No. 14 overall seed Oregon (19-9) will take on Clemson (23-9) at 5 p.m. ET. The Wildcats and Spartans will take the court following that contest. The winners of the two matchups will then meet on Saturday, Dec. 5th at 7 p.m.
"To have the opportunity to play in five straight NCAA Tournaments and be able to host for the second straight year I think says a lot about the following that we have in the support of our program," Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said. "I know our team is ready to play because it has been over a week since we've seen the floor, and they know if you don't play well there really is no tomorrow."
After another impressive season under head coach Craig Skinner the Wildcats are making their fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Skinner's squad is one of just 20 schools in the nation to chart five straight appearances among the field of 64. No other UK coach in history has led a team to five straight tournament runs. With a national ranking of 13 this week, UK has earned a national ranking for its 25th consecutive week. That mark is just two weeks shy of the school-record stretch of 27 straight weeks from 1987-89.
Kentucky captured the Southeastern Conference Eastern Divisional title and placed second overall in the league standings. UK's 27 victories in 2009 are the seventh most in school allure. Under Skinner the Blue and White has increased its win total in each of his five seasons at the helm.
Five UK players earned All-SEC distinctions earlier in the week. Sarah Rumely was a first-team member for the second straight year. Sarah Mendoza was a first-time member of the first-team to join Rumely. BriAnne Sauer earned second-team honors to mark the first time in her career she achieved all-conference honors. Lauren Rapp earned second-team distinctions for the second consecutive season. Stephanie Klefot rounded out the awards for the Blue and White with a spot on the All-SEC Freshman team. Kentucky's five selections was a league-high, also the second straight season UK achieved that feat.
UK's offense continues to impress as the Wildcats head into the tournament run with the nation's seventh highest total with 14.73 kills per set. Five Kentucky players average over two kills per frame. UK's hitting percentage of .281 ranks as the 10th best in the country while Rumely's 11.82 assists per frame are the 10th most in the nation.
This marks the second time in three seasons the Wildcats will face the Spartans in the first round of the tournament. UK and Michigan State met in 2007 in Dayton, Ohio, with the Spartans earning a 3-0 win.
The Spartans finished 10th overall in the Big Ten regular season. Michigan State posted impressive early season victories against Southern California and Illinois - both ranked No. 12 in the nation at the time Michigan State handed the squads a loss. The Spartans are led by four players who average over 2.35 kills per set. Megan Schatzle leads the offense with 2.99 kills per set and Mischelle Nelson holds the top hitting percentage with a .326 clip. Natalie Emro has dished out over 1,260 assists this season while Allyson Karaba leads the team with 4.21 digs per set.
"Michigan State is a very good team," Skinner said. "Their Big 10 record is no indication of the talent level that they have. They are a physical team. They are a great blocking team, and they play with a lot of energy. It will be a very interesting match and I'm excited for it."
The Wildcats and Spartans have faced four times in school history. Michigan State has claimed all four meetings in the series including the last matchup that occurred in 2007. Michigan State earned a 3-0 win over the Wildcats in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that season.
In the site's first matchup, the Ducks finished sixth overall in the Pac-10 standings but finished its season strong with wins over No. 7 UCLA and No. 4 Washington in two of its last three matches. The Ducks are paced offensively by Sonja Newcombe who averages 4.34 kills per frame on .286 hitting. Ranked second in the nation, Nevena Djordjevic passes out 12.25 assists per frame to a squad that averages 14.59 kills per stanza. Oregon also turns away an average of 2.42 blocks per set.
The Tigers finished fourth overall in the ACC in the regular season standings and has captured three wins in its last four matches. Clemson is led by Sandra Adeleye's 3.04 kills per set. Kelsey Murphy passes out 10.57 assists per frame and two Tiger players average over a block per set. Alexa Rand leads the way with an average of 1.29 blocks per frame.
A Tournament Central site is available at UKathletics.com with information on all four teams, a seating chart and parking information. Follow along all week at Kentucky's official homepage for up-to-date information and news regarding the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.