Wildcats Take Big Win Over Valparaiso
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Three Wildcats tallied double-digit kills and junior middle blocker Amy Kaplan posted a career-high 17 kills as the University of Kentucky volleyball team defeated 2003 NCAA Tournament participant Valparaiso, 3-1 (30-27, 26-30, 30-27, 30-28), Friday evening at Memorial Coliseum in the first night of the Kentucky Conference Challenge.
Kaplan’s 17 kills were complemented by a season-high eight digs and seven blocks for the Wildcats, who improve to 4-2 with the victory. Junior outside hitter Danielle Wallace registered a season-high 20 kills and senior outside hitter Sarah Spinner posted her fourth double-double of the season with 14 kills and 20 digs.
Sophomore libero Jenni Casper led the Cats defensively for the sixth time this season with a team-high 21 digs, which ties her season high. She was one of three Kentucky players to eclipse the double-digit digs mark. Junior setter Leigh Marcum posted a season-high 55 assists in the contest, as Kentucky hit just .137 on the evening.
Kentucky broke out to an early 2-0 lead in the first game after Spinner opened the match with a kill and the duo of Kristen Cunningham and Alex Montefalco posted a block on the next possession. Valparaiso (4-2) was able to battle its way back into the game thanks to a number of unforced errors by the Wildcats. Two illegal back row blocks and a service error by Casper allowed Valparaiso to take a 12-6 lead and forced UK coach Jona Braden to burn an early timeout.
Three consecutive unforced errors by Valpo allowed the Wildcats to tie the score at 23. A block by Cunningham and Wallace gave UK a 25-24 lead, forcing Crusaders coach Carin Avery to call a timeout. From there, UK went on a 4-0 run, but Valpo was able to stave off two Kentucky attempts at game point before Cunningham drove a kill down the middle to give the Cats a 30-27 game one win.
The Wildcats quickly raced out to a 6-2 lead in the second game behind two kills from Kaplan during that stretch, but the Crusaders rallied to take an 11-10 lead. A service error by Kentucky and two consecutive Valpo kills allowed the Crusaders to extend their lead to 17-14, forcing Braden to call another timeout late in game two. The Cats responded out of the timeout to pull within one, 20-19, but Valparaiso was able to string together three consecutive kills late in the second game to win 30-26. The two teams went into intermission tied at a game apiece.
The two teams battled closely in game three before Kentucky sailed two consecutive passes long, allowing Valparaiso to take an 11-8 lead. The Cats rallied to tie the score at 12 on a resounding kill by Wallace from the outside. The Crusaders then extended their lead to four, 19-15, behind an effective blocking effort. Kentucky again tied the score at 24. Two unforced Valpo errors allowed the Wildcats to take a 28-26 lead. With the crowd on its feet, Cunningham and Wallace registered a crucial block to give the Cats a 30-27 game-three victory.
Kentucky led from the start in the fourth game as it pulled to a 10-7 lead on a powerful kill by Spinner. Wallace had three kills during that stretch. The Crusaders tied the game at 14 after Popp sailed a pass wide of the court and would later tie it again at 19 and 21 before taking a 23-21 lead on back-to-back kills. Cunningham recorded a key block to give the Cats a 26-25 advantage. Valpo would tie the score at 27 before Kaplan smashed a kill down the line and then she and Spinner combined to post a powerful opposite side block to bring the Cats to game point. Kaplan then drilled a kill off of the Crusaders’ Katie Bova to close out the match with a 30-28 win.
With the win, Kentucky improves to 61-25 overall in regular season home tournament action. The match was a homecoming of sorts for Valpo’s Avery as she played for the Wildcats as a freshman in 1990 before transferring to Ball State the following year.
Kentucky returns to action tomorrow when it hosts Indiana State at 12:30 p.m. and Hofstra at 7 p.m. in the Kentucky Conference Challenge. Fans can follow all of the action with live stats on the official Web site of Kentucky Athletics at www.ukathletics.com.