Cats Open SEC Play with Sweep of Alabama
Sept. 19, 2008
LEXINGTON, Ky. - In the opening match of Southeastern Conference action the Kentucky Wildcats made a statement with a 3-0 sweep of visiting Alabama Friday, at Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats were sparked by sophomore Sarah Mendoza and senior Queen Nzenwa en route to their seventh straight win by the scores of 30-28, 25-16, 25-20.
The seven consecutive victories is the longest streak of wins in the Craig Skinner era. The last time Kentucky rattled off seven straight wins was in 2004 to end non-conference action.
Mendoza paced the Wildcats with 13 kills and a career-best 14 digs for her third double-double of the season. Sophomore Lauren Rapp added 11 kills and three blocks to lead the team with 15.5 points on the night. The home squad was dominating at the net rejecting 10.5 Crimson Tide attacks, led by Nzenwa's six put-backs. Kentucky also used an impressive .254 hitting percentage compared with Alabama's .104.
"I thought our team was really tough in sets one and three," said Skinner. "We really closed the door at the end of those sets and that was very indicative of our mental toughness."
The first set proved to be everything SEC volleyball is branded. There were 13 ties and five lead changes before the Wildcats prevailed with a 30-28 extra-point victory.
Alabama jumped out to an early 2-0 advantage off a kill and an illegal touch by the Wildcats. Kentucky quickly tied the score behind a Rapp kill and the first block of the night off the arms of junior Sarah Rumely and Nzenwa. Kentucky pulled to a three-point edge off two Rapp serving aces. With Kentucky up 10-4, Alabama began to crawl back. A momentum-shifting rally in the visitors' favor pulled the score to 11-10.
The Crimson Tide would take a 16-14 lead on a kill, and that's when Nzenwa sparked a UK run. The senior returned to the match and split the defense with a swift touch and a point for the Blue and White. Nzenwa was then involved in an Alabama error when the Crimson Tide player attempted to alter her shot over Nzenwa's outstretched arms, tying the score at 16. The teams would trade points back and forth until UK earned a match point at 24-23 off freshman Ann Armes' kill that laced the left line. Alabama didn't go away though saving match point on four different occasions. When Alabama served up an ace to take match point, Mendoza came up with a slick placement for a match-saving kill. Then freshman Becky Pavan and Rapp teamed up for back-to-back blocks to end the set in thrilling fashion getting the home crowd riled up.
Kentucky dominated the second set (25-16), holding Alabama to a -.114 hitting percentage in the frame. UK combined for 4.5 blocks in the stanza and capitalized on 11 errors from the visitors. Mendoza and Rapp combined for nine kills to aid the UK cause.
"Our team followed our game plan extremely well in the second set," Skinner said. "We accomplished what we wanted to follow. Alabama has some prolific attackers and we neutralized their attack to our advantage."
The third set started off much like the first with the two teams trading points back and forth and neither wanting to give an inch. There were 12 ties and five lead changes in the frame, with UK taking the biggest lead coming at the final margin 25-20. Kentucky hit a match high .448 putting down 13 kills and turning away three attacks. Mendoza led the team with four kills, while Rapp had three kills and a perfect 1.000 hitting percentage. Nzenwa added two kills and a pair of blocks to close out the match in favor of the Blue and White.
Rumely dished out 33 assists and contributed five digs and five blocks. Junior BriAnne Sauer led the defensive effort with 23 digs. Nzenwa and Armes each chipped in with six kills.
Kentucky returns to action on Sunday when they host Mississippi State at 1:30. The match will be aired live on CWKYT-Channel 5 in Lexington. Dick Gabriel and former Kentucky coach Kathy DeBoer will be on the call.
For fans outside of the viewing area, live stats will be available at UKathletics.com, as well as a complete recap following the action.