Kentucky Shoots Past Rockets, 3-0
Kentucky middle blockers Nicole Britenriker (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Queen Nzenwa (Baltimore, Md.) stepped up big for the Wildcats again on Saturday in a 3-0 (30-24, 30-26, 30-25) victory over Toledo on day two of the Kentucky Classic in Memorial Coliseum. Kentucky improves to 6-1 on the season with the win – its best seven-game mark since the 2003 season.
Britenriker led all Wildcats with 15 kills on .321 hitting with three blocks. Nzenwa hit a squad-best .455 with 12 kills and three rejections. Kentucky’s hot hitting from Friday night carried over into Saturday’s match as the Wildcats hit .421 in the opening game and finished with a .285 hitting percentage. Sophomore right side hitter Tess Edwards (Ottowa, Ontario) added seven kills on .500 hitting, while senior libero Jenni Casper (Louisville, Ky.) and sophomore defensive specialist Alisa Pierce (Louisville, Ky.) led the defensive effort with 12 and 11 digs, respectively.
The Wildcats broke to a 5-2 advantage in the first game after back-to-back kills by Britenriker and sophomore outside hitter Ashlee Fisher (West Bend, Wis.). The Rockets, however, capitalized on several Kentucky errors to pull even at 6-6. A put-down by Edwards ended the 3-0 Toledo run at 7-6. After a kill by the Rockets, the Cats were called for a lift which gave Toledo its first lead of the game at 8-7. The two teams remained even and game one saw six more ties until the Wildcats went back in front 15-14 after a kill by freshman setter Sarah Rumely (New Palestine, Ind.) on second contact knotted the score. An emphatic put-down by Nzenwa in the middle moved UK ahead.
Those two kills were the beginning of a 5-0 run by the Cats which extended their lead to 18-14. A 3-0 Toledo streak brought the Rockets within three, 22-19, before Britenriker and Rumely posted consecutive kills to extend Kentucky’s advantage back to five, 24-19. The Rockets kept rallying to come as close as two, 26-24, on a service error by Rumely. From there, the Wildcats scored the game’s next four points to take a 30-24 victory. Kentucky hit .421 in the opening frame, backed by Britenriker’s six put-downs.
Kentucky took a 5-3 lead to begin the second game on a soft-touch kill by Fisher on the outside. Nzenwa followed with a put-down of her own and Britenriker then served an ace to put the Wildcats up by four, 7-3, early in the match. A trio of Toledo errors quickly extended the Cats’ edge to 11-4. The Rockets fought their way back into the match to come within five, 15-10, but freshman middle blocker Heather Hausfeld (Cincinnati, Ohio) drilled a kill on the angle to stop the Toledo scoring streak.
A pair of service aces by the Rockets’ Stephanie Kersting, coupled with a Kentucky blocking error brought the Rockets as close as 19-17 and forced UK head coach Craig Skinner to burn a timeout. Out of the break, the Wildcats were able to widen their margin back out to five, 23-18, on a kill by Nzenwa in the middle. With UK leading 26-23, two Nzenwa kills sandwiched around a Fisher put-down on the outside brought the Cats to game point at 29-23. Kentucky closed out the game with a 30-26 victory.
Back-to-back kills by Rumely and Britenriker gave the Wildcats a 4-1 advantage to begin the third game. A pair of kills by Edwards in between a Toledo attack error extended Kentucky’s lead to six, 12-6. From there, the Rockets ran off seven consecutive points to move in front 13-12, and force Skinner to burn a timeout.
Out of the break, Britenriker responded with a kill before Popp posted a kill off the block. An ace by senior Julie Gagnon (Wheaton, Ill.) on the next play put the Cats on top, 15-13. Kentucky continued to hold a narrow advantage, taking a 20-18 lead on a kill by Nzenwa down the middle. The Cats extended their advantage to 22-19 as Hausfeld soared above the net to attack a free ball for the kill. After UK went up 25-20, Toledo cut the Cats’ advantage to 25-23 and forced UK to call a timeout. An attack error by the Rockets and a block solo by Britenriker moved UK back ahead by four, 27-23, and the Cats closed out the game with a 30-25 win.
“This was a good 3-0 win for our team and it was good to see a lot of people get in and contribute,” said Skinner. “In a three-match tournament, the second match is critical to stay focused for the final one. I’m glad we were able to get it done in a sweep today.”
The Wildcats return to action later this afternoon when they face Georgia Tech in their third and final match of the Kentucky Classic. Game time is set for 4 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum.