Nov. 10, 2013
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LEXINGTON, Ky. – In a career-best performance, freshman Anni Thomasson exploded for 30 kills and 22 digs and three Wildcats posted double-doubles as the University of Kentucky volleyball team came back in the final set to beat LSU, 3-2 (23-25, 25-16, 26-24, 25-27, 15-13) in a five-set thriller Sunday afternoon in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats (18-6, 10-3 Southeastern Conference) scored 12 of the final 18 points in the fifth and deciding set to put away a Tiger (15-8, 5-6 SEC) team that continued to fight back throughout the match.
UK was just as tough, however, and despite suffering comeback defeats in the first and fourth sets, never let go. Thomasson, in addition to double-double efforts from senior Whitney Billings and sophomore setter Morgan Bergren, led the charge.
“I thought we were extremely tough when we needed to be,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “We had a chance to break, and refused to allow ourselves to go down that path. We created opportunities for us to score at the end and it was a great win. It was a great team effort today, there were a lot of people involved in a lot of different ways.”
After LSU came back to steal the fourth set and force a fifth, UK found itself trailing, 7-3. That’s when the tide shifted in favor of the Blue and White. Kentucky clawed back to tie it at eight, and after LSU regained the lead, the Wildcats once again came back to tie it at nine and again at 10. An 11-10 lead turned into an 11-11 tie and then a 12-11 deficit. That wasn’t the end for the Wildcats though, who scored three of the last four to win the match. Fittingly, it was a kill from Thomasson that gave UK the 15-13 victory. Kentucky hit just .111 in the set, but with 10 kills, three from sophomore Shelby Workman, it was enough to earn the hard-fought win.
Thomasson totaled 30 kills and 22 digs, both career bests. It is the first time in the Craig Skinner era that a player has eclipsed 30 kills and 20 digs, and is the most kills in UK history in the 25-point rally scoring era. Thomasson’s outing is the first time a player in the SEC has recorded at least 30 kills and 20 digs since Alabama’s Kayla Fitterer did so on Nov. 7, 2010 against UK.
Not to be outdone, Billings added 13 kills, a season-high-tying 19 digs and four blocks for her 40th career double-double. Bergren dished out a career-high 66 assists to go along with a career-best 11 digs. Bergren’s 66 marks the most helpers by a UK player since Elizabeth Koberstein’s 70 in 2011.
Workman also recorded double-digit kills, with 11 in addition to a dig and one block. Coming off the bench, all of Workman’s totals came in the final three sets.
“I don’t ever recall 30 kills and 22 digs, so that’s as big, regardless of class, that a player can play in a five-set match,” Skinner added. “She was fearless today and Morgan was able to find her when she needed too. She hit the right shots at the right time. For Anni, Shelby and Whitney to produce the points for us, and Morgan was able to spread the offense around to get a lot of people involved, it created a great team win.”
UK tallied 79 kills as a team, a record in the 25-point rally scoring era. The Wildcats hit .280 on the match and limited LSU to a .220 hitting clip with 66 kills. Kentucky had five service aces, two from senior Jessi Greenberg, and 10 blocks.
Senior Alexandra Morgan had seven kills in addition to a team-high six blocks, while sophomore Kayla Tronick added seven kills and a career-best four blocks. Junior Lauren O’Conner notched nine kills and redshirt freshman Kelsey Wolf had eight scoops. Junior libero Jackie Napper had a team-high-tying 22 digs.
The 25-16 win in the second frame, a nine-point spread, is tied for the second-largest victory margin following a set in which UK lost. Thomasson once again led the way for the Wildcats in the second, with eight kills and seven digs. Billings and O’Conner each had three of UK’s 16 kills, while Bergren, Billings and Napper all notched four digs. Kentucky jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, which they would never give up. UK’s lead was extended to five at 11-6 and seven at 19-12. The frame featured three 3-0 runs by the Blue and White.
Looking to take a 2-1 lead in the match, Kentucky found itself down 14-12 in the third set before it scored seven of the next eight to go up 19-15. The lead was enough, but it did not come easily. With a 24-22 advantage, the Wildcats were unable to close out the set and the Tigers tied it at 24. That’s when Workman notched two of her four kills to close it out the set, 26-24, and give the Blue and White a 2-1 advantage. Thomasson knotted five of UK’s 18 kills in the set, while Napper recorded seven scoops. The Wildcats hit .310 in the set.
The Tigers came back to score seven of the final nine points to take a 25-23 win in the first set. It was just the fourth opening-frame loss for UK in a winning match this season. LSU’s late charge marked the fourth lead change in the frame, after UK scored four of five to take a 15-14 lead. The Wildcats lost the first point in the opening set, but quickly responded to take a 2-1 lead. The two teams traded tallies until LSU took a 6-5 lead, which it would not give up until Kentucky took its 15-14 edge. The Wildcats extended their lead to 21-18 and led 22-20 when the Tigers scored four straight to go ahead, 24-22. Thomasson had seven kills in the frame, while UK hit .310 with 18 kills. LSU had 19 kills and hit .294 in the frame.
LSU claimed a fourth-set win thanks to a late comeback. The Wildcats were leading by three at 21-18, but the Tigers scored three straight to tie it at 21, and eventually took a 25-24 lead. UK tied the set at 25, but gave up two straight points to fall, 27-25 and force the fifth and deciding set. Thomasson registered eight kills to lead UK to .300 hitting and 17 kills, while Tronick posted two solo blocks.
Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum will play host to the NCAA Regionals Dec. 13-14. UK is one of four sites selected for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups with one team advancing to the Final Four in Seattle, Wash., from the Lexington Region. This marks the second time in three seasons Memorial Coliseum will host this premier volleyball event.
Visit UKathletics.com for the most up-to-date information on the Kentucky volleyball team and all 22 varsity sports. For additional info on the volleyball team like Kentucky Volleyball on Facebook or follow the team on Twitter at @KentuckyVB.