Wildcats Top WKU in Season Opener
Junior transfer Nicole Britenriker (Cincinnati, Ohio) and sophomore outside hitter Ashlee Fisher (West Bend, Wis.) each registered a team-high 12 kills Tuesday, Aug. 29, as Kentucky shook off opening night jitters to post a 3-0 (30-25, 30-22, 30-28) win over Western Kentucky in front of 1,129 fans in Memorial Coliseum.
The Cats are now 1-0 on the young season and snapped a two-game WKU winning streak in the intrastate series. WKU falls to 3-2 on the year with the shutout loss.
Britenriker, playing her first match in the Blue and White since transferring from Ohio State, registered 12 kills on .333 hitting to lead UK. Freshman setter Sarah Rumely (New Palestine, Ind.), who earned the starting nod, dished out 33 assists, while registering an impressive six service aces and six digs in her collegiate debut. The Wildcats notched 14 aces in the match. Sophomore Alisa Pierce (Louisville, Ky.) led the way defensively for the Cats with seven digs to complement two aces.
“The fact that we were able to beat a team like Western Kentucky 3-0 in our first match of the season says a lot about where we are going,” said second-year head coach Craig Skinner. “I think this team can do a lot of great things this season.
“We have to give Western a lot of credit. We handled them pretty well in game two and they gave us all they had in the third game,” added Skinner. “I’m proud of the composure our team had tonight.”
The Wildcats, who improve to 70-39 all-time vs. foes from within the Bluegrass State, overcame a powerful WKU blocking attack, led by Megan Argabright’s five rejections. The Cats out-hit the Lady Toppers .205-.170 in the match.
Western Kentucky broke to an early 10-5 lead in the first game thanks to its strong blocking and several Kentucky errors. Trailing 11-6, the Wildcats got back into the game after a kill by sophomore Tess Edwards (Ottowa, Ontario) on the right side. The converted setter adjusted well to her new role, finishing with a career-high six kills. She followed her kill with an ace to bring the Cats within three, 11-8. Trailing 12-8, UK went on a 4-0 run capped off by a Fisher kill and an ace by senior outside hitter Melissa Popp (Indianapolis, Ind.) to tie the score at 12 and force a timeout by the Lady Toppers.
Out of the break, Popp notched another ace and Fisher followed with a put-down to move the Cats in front 14-12. After two more ties, Western went back in front 17-15 before a Britenriker kill stopped the drought. A put-down by Popp capped off a 3-0 Kentucky run and tied the score at 18. After three more ties, the Wildcats pushed ahead 26-24 on an ace by Rumely that forced WKU to burn a late timeout. Out of the break, Rumely followed with another ace to extend UK’s advantage to 27-24. Sophomore Queen Nzenwa (Baltimore) drilled a resounding kill down the middle to put UK at game point before a WKU service error gave the Cats the 30-25 first-game win.
The Wildcats opened the second game on a 6-2 tear that was capped off by a powerful kill by Fisher on the outside. Kentucky kept rolling to extend its advantage to 9-3 and force a WKU timeout. With the Wildcats ahead 13-7, the Lady Toppers cut into the their deficit, using strong blocking to score three of the game’s next four points and come within four, 14-10.
From there, the Cats scored four consecutive to extend their lead to eight, 18-10, but Western began slowly creeping back into the match. The Lady Toppers came within five, 22-17, before a WKU attack error ended their scoring streak. Kentucky easily closed the second game on a powerful kill by Britenriker for the 30-22 victory.
The two teams battled closely to begin the third game before a service error by Edwards and a WKU block put the Hilltoppers in front 11-9. They extended their lead to 14-11, which forced Skinner to use a timeout. Out of the break, Rumely notched a crafty kill on second contact before following with a service ace to bring UK within one, 14-13. A Fisher kill on the next play tied the score at 14. Two consecutive Western kills put the Toppers ahead by three, 18-15, before a Popp put-down ended the run.
UK then went on a 3-0 run that included two Pierce aces to knot the score at 18. After a sharp kill by Nzenwa down the middle brought the cats within one, 24-23, Western Kentucky scored three consecutive points heading into a UK timeout. Kills by Britenriker and Fisher, and an ace by Rumely tied the score at 26 and the Cats rolled to a 30-28 game-three win.
Kentucky returns to action this weekend when it travels to the Big Orange Tournament in Syracuse, N.Y. The Cats play host school Syracuse at 3 p.m. ET Friday, Siena at 10 a.m. ET Saturday and San Diego State at 5 p.m. ET Saturday.
Game Notes: Kentucky improves to 1-0 with the season-opening win over Western Kentucky, while the Hilltoppers drop to 3-2 on the year … The Wildcats improve to 11-4 in the all-time series with the Hilltoppers, breaking a two-match WKU winning streak in the series … The Cats improve to 22-8 all-time in season openers, including a 15-2 record when opening the year at home … UK is now 70-39 all-time vs. foes from within the Bluegrass State.