Wildcats Claim Kentucky Conference Challenge Title
Junior outside hitter Danielle Wallace registered 16 kills as the University of Kentucky volleyball team posted an impressive 3-0 (30-28, 30-21, 30-19) victory over Hofstra Saturday evening at Memorial Coliseum in the final game of the Kentucky Conference Challenge. Wallace was named the tournament’s most valuable player after totaling 53 kills on .400 hitting for the weekend.
This marks the second time UK has won the Conference Challenge under seventh-year head coach Jona Braden. With the win, the Cats (6-2) improve to 63-25 all-time in regular season home tournament action.
“Our defense has been the whole focus of what we do every day in the gym,” Braden said. “Our object is to grow our defense by putting pressure on the opponent and forcing them to go where they don’t want to go. Having 3.1 blocks per game and 18.1 digs per game is a great testament to how hard we work on that defense.
“I take my hat off to the defense and a collective team effort. We dug out of a few holes tonight and that takes maturity. We did a dynamite job of fighting for points one at a time.”
Senior outside hitter Sarah Spinner rang up her second double-double of the day with a 12-kill, 12-dig performance. Spinner tied her season-high with three service aces in the match. Junior setter Leigh Marcum also was named to the all-tournament team after turning in 30 assists in the victory, while averaging 12.8 dishes per game on the weekend. The Wildcats hit .250 for the second consecutive match.
Kentucky took an early 2-0 lead in game one after Spinner and Wallace opened the match with consecutive kills. The Cats extended their lead to 4-2 when Braden substituted freshman Kathleen Bowler to serve for Kristen Cunningham. Bowler immediately made her presence known as she recorded her first collegiate ace on her first service attempt of the match. Hofstra (4-5) kept things close and tied the match at 14 when Spinner made an error on an attack attempt. The two teams battled back and forth until the Pride took advantage of a Kentucky attack error to take a 25-19 lead.
The Wildcats, however, battled back due to a number of unforced errors by the Pride, including a double hit violation. Freshman outside hitter Alex Montefalco dinked the ball over the net to give UK the lead at 27-26. After Hofstra tied the score again at 27, Montefalco came up with another kill and then the Pride was called for being in the net to take UK to game point. With the crowd on its feet, Montefalco drilled a kill down the line to give the Cats a 30-28 win in game one. Statistically, the teams were nearly even in the first game, with Kentucky holding a slight.178-.143 advantage in hitting percentage.
Braden began game two by substituting freshman setter Ki Eveland in for Marcum. Eveland’s acrobatic back sets and offensive versatility in her home debut staked the Cats to a 6-3 second-game lead when she dinked a hit over the net for the kill. With Kentucky leading 11-9, Eveland dived to save a potent Hofstra attack and Spinner triumphantly drove the ball down the middle to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 12-9.
Hofstra took itself out of a one-point game by making a number of attack errors, which allowed UK to take a 21-16 advantage. Cunningham came up with a kill and then teamed with Wallace to post a crucial block, putting the Cats up 26-17 and they went on to win the game 30-21.
The Pride was able to contend with Kentucky throughout the first 10 points of game three, but a service ace by Spinner gave the Cats a 13-7 lead. Marcum, who returned to the game after Eveland was forced to the bench with an injury, trickled a ball over the net to extend the UK lead to eight, 20-12. Errant attacks by Hofstra allowed Kentucky to expand its lead throughout the third stanza. An emphatic kill by Spinner to put the Cats up 27-19 brought the crowd to its feet and UK went on to win 30-19.
Kentucky returns to action Sept. 18-19 when it travels to West Lafayette, Ind., to compete in the Purdue Mortar Board Tournament. The Cats will play East Tennessee State at 6 p.m. EST Friday and will then face Central Michigan and host Purdue on Saturday.
Fans can follow all next weekend’s action by viewing live stats on this site.
Kentucky Conference Challenge All-Tournament Team