Wildcats Win in Five at UNI Invitational
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – The Kentucky volleyball team won a hard-fought five-game match tonight, Aug. 25, as it defeated host-team Northern Iowa (2-1) by a final of 3-2 (26-30, 30-23, 30-24, 29-31, 17-15) to improve to 2-1 on the year. Senior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker was named to the All-Tournament team.
Britenriker finished with a match-high 17 kills to go along with a season-high 17 digs for her second double-double effort of the year. Junior middle blocker Queen Nzenwa set a new career-high with 12 total blocks and recorded her first double-double effort of the season with 10 kills. Sophomore Brooke Bartek added a pair of personal-bests with 15 kills and six digs, while freshman Blaire Hiler recorded a career-high with 14 kills in the win. Sophomore setter Sarah Rumely added 49 assists and nine digs to go along with four block assists, while junior Alisa Pierce tallied a career-high with 24 digs in the victory. Sophomore BriAnne Sauer had an outstanding game for the Wildcats, notching 19 digs to tie her career high.
“I’m really proud of our kids and the way they kept battling back in the fifth game,” said head coach Craig Skinner. “We made plays when it mattered and got a great win against a good team on the road.”
Kentucky outhit the Panthers .207 to .201 and recorded 32 blocks in the match. The Wildcats had a season-best 87 digs and charted six service aces in the five-game win.
The teams played close in game one and were tied for the sixth time at 10-10 after back-to-back kills by Sarah Rumely and Queen Nzenwa. UNI used a Rumely serving error to start a 5-1 scoring streak to take the lead at 15-11 and force a UK timeout. Hiler notched her second kill of the game in the opening play out of the break to start a 6-1 run that put the Wildcats on top 17-16 and forced the Panthers to use a timeout. Nicole Britenriker had three kills and teamed up with Rumely for a block assist, while Hiler also had a pair of put-downs during the streak.
The Cats and Panthers were deadlocked again at 21-all when UNI scored three straight points including two straight aces to take a 24-22 lead. A service error, followed by a Hiler kill and a block assist by the freshman and Britenriker sparked a 4-1 Wildcat run that put UK up 26-25 and caused UNI to burn its second timeout of the game. The tide turned after the break as the Panthers scored five straight to take the opening game 30-26.
Nzenwa opened game two with back-to-back kills, which were followed by a UNI ball-handling error and kills by Brooke Bartek and Hiler to give the Cats an early 5-1 lead. UK continued to lead by four at 11-7 when the Panthers went on a 6-0 run to take a two-point lead at 13-11. UNI pushed its lead to as many as three, 15-12, but the Wildcats had the answer and scored three straight to tie it at 15 on a block assist by Britenriker and Rapp.
UNI took a brief one-point but the Wildcats responded by scoring six of the next seven points to go up 21-17 and force another Panther breather. Rapp had a pair of kills in the run, while Hiler connected on consecutive put-downs that led to the timeout. UNI cut it to three at 24-21 before the Cats used two kills by Bartek and an ace by Rumely to create a seven-point cushion at 28-21. Bartek added another sharp kill right down the middle and Nzenwa ended the second game with a huge block to give the Cats the 30-23 win.
In game three, Northern Iowa took an early 4-2 lead but the Cats tied it after a service error and a kill by Britenriker. The score would be tied four more times until the Wildcats used a 3-0 run on a UNI hitting error, a ball handling error by the Panthers and a block by Nzenwa and Rapp to take an 11-9 edge. Kentucky pushed the lead to three, 13-10, on a put-down by Nzenwa and an ace by Bartek, but UNI came back to tie the score again at 14-all.
A block assist by Britenriker and Hiler made it a 16-14 UK lead and a powerful kill by Hiler gave the Cats another three-point cushion. The Panthers would tie the game at 19 which resulted in a Kentucky timeout. The Cats scored three straight out of the break on kills by Bartek and Rumely to force the Panthers to call for time. The halt in the action didn’t deter the Cats as they scored eight straight to take their largest lead of the game at 27-19. UK went on top 29-20, but had trouble putting the game away as UNI responded with three straight kills to cut the score to 29-23. The Panthers scored again on a Kentucky hitting error but Bartek came through with a kill to seal the 30-24 victory to put the Cats ahead two games to one.
Game four began much the same as the previous three with six ties in the early goings. The Cats led by two, 8-6, after a Bartek kill and two UNI errors. The Panthers answered with a 5-0 run to take an 11-8 edge. The Cats cut the lead to two, 15-13, on a kill by Britenriker, but the Panthers used a 3-0 run to take an 18-13 advantage and force a Kentucky timeout. Bartek added her 11th kill of the match and Alisa Pierce dug a ball that sailed over the net and fell in for a kill to cut it to three at 18-15.
UNI used a 6-3 run to take a 24-18 lead but Hiler snapped the scoring streak with a kill. Britenriker added a powerful put-down of her own and Rapp delivered a service ace to cut it to 25-21 and force a Panther timeout. The Wildcats came out rejuvenated and used a 5-2 run to cut the UNI lead to just one at 27-26. Northern Iowa quickly burned their final timeout but a long rally right out of the break ended with a Bartek kill to tie the score at 27-all. The ninth tie of the game would come at 29-29, which the Panthers broke with a pair of back-to-back kills to take the fourth game 31-29.
The fifth game began with a sharp cross-court kill by Britenriker and an ace by Rapp as the Cats took an early 2-0 lead. UNI quickly tied it and neither team led by more than a point until the Panthers had two consecutive kills to take a 7-5 edge and cause the Cats to use a timeout. Kentucky struck first following the break as Nzenwa recorded her ninth kill of the match to make it a 7-6 score. The Wildcats tied the game at eight on another kill by Nzenwa but saw the Panthers take an 11-8 lead after scoring three consecutive times. Britenriker and Hiler teamed up for a block to cut it to two at 11-9 and Rapp followed with her third ace of the match to make it a one-point affair and force a UNI timeout.
A Panther hitting error tied it at 11 but two straight kills gave the home team a 13-11 advantage. A service error sailed long to make it 13-12 and another made it a one-point UNI lead at 14-13. Nzenwa made it a tie ballgame with a push to the right side that fell in and tied the score at 14-all. The junior followed that performance with her fourth block solo of the match to put UK up 15-14. UNI tied it again at 15 but an attack error and four-hits call ended the match as the Wildcats won game five by a final of 17-15.
The Wildcats return to action on Wednesday, Aug. 29, when they travel to Bowling Green to take on in-state foe Western Kentucky at 8 p.m.