No. 17 Kentucky Prevails in Five-Set Thriller
Sept. 8, 2009
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The No. 17 Kentucky volleyball team rallied from a 2-0 deficit to capture its seventh consecutive win Tuesday night as they snatched a 3-2, (21-25, 27-29, 25-23, 25-22, 15-9) victory over Cincinnati in front of 1,099 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
It was Kentucky's veterans who paved the way for the Blue and White to remain perfect on the year. Kentucky's junior class showed tenacity in fighting back from the largest set deficit of the season as Sarah Mendoza totaled season-highs in kills (22) and digs (15) for UK. Blaire Hiler came off the bench to provide a much needed spark and rattled off three consecutive points in the decisive fifth set. Classmate Lauren Rapp posted 10 kills and added three blocks in the junior-class effort.
"The juniors made a big difference tonight," said Kentucky coach Craig Skinner. "(Sarah) Mendoza and Blaire (Hiler) both had huge matches for us there at the end. They've been there before, and they've been in a fifth set before. They understand that you have to swing hard and go for it."
Senior setter Sarah Rumely once again hit all spots on the court as she registered 51 assists, seven kills and 11 digs for her third double-double of the year. Sophomore Becky Pavan added 10 kills and a team-high five blocks to aid the Wildcat cause.
Not to be overlooked, but the tandem of senior BriAnne Sauer and freshman Stephanie Klefot provided a number of saves for the Blue and White from the back row. Both players set season-bests in digs as Sauer had a match-high 25 and Klefot totaled 19.
With the match tied at two sets apiece Kentucky showed the dominance on display all season. UK used a match-high .526 hitting percentage and 12 kills to claim the 15-9 set win and the match victory. Hiler led the set with five kills and sophomore Gretchen Giesler chipped in with three.
The set went back and forth in the opening plays with the score knotted at 3-3. Kentucky would then use a four-point run to shake the Bearcats behind a pair of kills from Giesler and one from Hiler. Cincinnati pulled to within 8-7, but would only score two more points the rest of the way as UK totaled six kills (three straight from Hiler) and benefited from two Cincinnati miscues to win the set.
"How we played the match in that final set is how we need to continue to play," Skinner said. "I've been telling people all week that Cincinnati is a very good team. They are going to be very good this year and this was a good test for us."
Kentucky kept the match alive with a crucial fourth-set win behind six kills from Mendoza. Rapp was also impressive with three kills on a .750 hitting percentage. UK emerged from the opening serve to take a comfortable 12-4 advantage. However, Cincinnati did not go away quietly, as the Bearcats used a 13-8 run to move to within 20-17. Mendoza drilled three kills in the final five points to help UK to 25-22 set victory and force the decisive fifth set.
Trailing by two sets Kentucky used the 10-minute break to its advantage and came out with a renewed energy. UK benefited from 10 attacking errors by the Bearcats and a team-best four blocks in the stanza.
"This team needs to learn to understand that they have to take opportunities for themselves," Skinner said. "We were very tentative in games one and two and I think that was the biggest difference. After that game (the third set) we served aggressively, made plays defensively and we blocked aggressively. Against good teams you have to be able to do that."
The second set was a 29-27 thriller with both squads having ample opportunity to claim the set. In the end, Cincinnati prevailed after the Wildcats served the ball long during two set-point attempts. Despite the Wildcats outhitting their opponent and striking for more kills, the Bearcats jumped on the 11 attack errors to take the 2-0 set advantage.
In the opening frame, Cincinnati used a team-best .342 attacking percentage to take the set. The visitors laid down four more kills than the Wildcats and benefited from three service errors by the home squad.
Kentucky returns to action on Friday with a showdown at No. 23 Kansas State. Match time is set for 7:30 p.m. ET. Complete coverage will be provided by UKathletics.com.