Wildcats Step Up in Intense Win over Aggies
Kaz Brown knew that she and her teammates on the Kentucky volleyball team had something to prove on Sunday. Facing SEC rival Texas A&M in a match that could potentially have implications on the SEC race, the Wildcats knew they needed to bring their best.
“There was definitely a little extra intensity at the gym today,” said Brown, a 6-4 junior from Waterloo, Iowa. “(A&M) won the SEC last year, so we wanted to come out and prove something. I think it’s kind of personal between these two teams, so the game is a lot more fiery, really passionate and really fun to play in.”
And it was the intense Brown, along with freshman Leah Edmond, who stepped up for the Wildcats when it mattered most on Sunday. Brown had 12 kills and six blocks, and Edmond had a career-high 25 kills as Kentucky claimed a 3-1 (25-18, 23-25, 25-21, 28-26) win to keep hopes of an SEC championship alive.
“Against good teams, you have to be pretty stable mentally,” said Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner. “That’s a team (A&M) that can easily get you out of your rhythm. There was a wave of momentum throughout that whole match. I’m proud of our team for sticking to it. We had a chance to break, and we didn’t.”
In a match that had a postseason atmosphere, the Wildcats came out firing behind four kills apiece from Brown and Edmond in the first set. A&M was able to claim the second set, but in the third, Kentucky went back to Brown and Edmond, and once again, the duo delivered. Edmond had eight kills on 14 attacks in the third set, while Brown had five kills on just six attacks. As a team, Kentucky hit .500 in the set.
And when it was crunch time and Kentucky needed someone to step up in the final frame, it was Edmond once again. She accounted for three kills and a block assist (with Brown) down the stretch in the fourth set as Kentucky claimed the match.
“Coach told us to play with passion and to be fearless,” said the freshman from Lexington. “That’s what we did today.”
Skinner described Edmond in much the same way.
“She’s fearless,” Skinner said of his freshman phenom “She made some mistakes, but then came right back and put the ball away. That’s what great competitors do. Our team has great faith and trust in her. She had a great match.”
With the win, Kentucky stays in the race for the SEC Championship. The Wildcats would need Florida to lose one of its final two matches to claim a share of the SEC crown. But even if they don’t, Skinner knows today’s match was good for his team going forward.
“The evolution of a team is learning how to execute a skill, learning how to play together and learning how to play under pressure and when things are going against you,” said the UK head coach. “We took a step forward today, because there times today when things weren’t going our way and we kept fighting and battling and willed ourselves to win.”
And if they needed any more motivation, two seniors were playing their final home matches today. Brown said the team wanted to step up for them.
“Senior weekend is always really special, so I think we wanted to go out and play for our seniors because they have done so much for us,” Brown said of the UK seniors. “Anni (Thomasson) and Sharay (Barnes) have given so much to this program on and off the court. We’re really lucky to have them. I don’t think it could have ended any better for them.”
Edmond, however, knows that there could still be big things to come for this team.
“There’s always things you can work on, but we’re hitting our stride and getting to our peak, which is what you want going into the postseason,” she said.
Winning in an intense match on Sunday can do nothing but help that cause as the postseason approaches.