Cats Down Mississippi State in SEC Opener
Four Kentucky players registered double-digit kills for the second consecutive match as the Wildcats won their third straight Southeastern Conference opener with a 3-1 (30-26, 30-27, 28-30, 30-21) victory against Mississippi State in front of 2,350 fans – the sixth-largest crowd in school history – in Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats improve to 10-2 on the year and 1-0 in the SEC, while MSU falls to 5-5 overall and 0-1 in conference play.
Junior middle blocker Queen Nzenwa led the Wildcats with a season-high 18 kills on .438 hitting, while fellow middle Nicole Britenriker had 15 kills on .538 hitting. Britenriker added 13 digs to notch her team-leading seventh double-double of the season. Freshman right-side hitter Lauren Rapp, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, recorded a career-high 13 kills on .480 hitting with five blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Brooke Bartek added 10 kills.
“Mississippi State is a very tough serving team and they took us out of our rhythm a little bit tonight,” said UK head coach Craig Skinner. “I’m proud of the way our team stayed with it and pulled out a big win to start SEC play. I thought Lauren Rapp, Queen Nzenwa and Nicole Britenriker really played well offensively tonight and gave us a big advantage down the stretch.”
Kentucky hit .311 for the match, after an impressive .410 clip in the opening frame. The Wildcats out-blocked the Bulldogs 11-3, marking UK’s eighth match this season with double-digit team blocks. Nzenwa led the way with eight rejections. Sophomore defensive specialist BriAnne Sauer headed the defensive effort with 14 digs, while junior libero Alisa Pierce added 13 scoops. Sophomore setter Sarah Rumely had her second consecutive 55-or-more assist match with 55 dishes against the Bulldogs.
The two teams battled closely to begin the first game before Mississippi State used a 4-0 run to take a 9-6 advantage. Three kills by Britenriker on the next four plays allowed Kentucky to come within one, 10-9. Nzenwa and Rumely posted a block to tie the score at 10, which sparked a 10-1 run that put the Wildcats ahead 17-11 as Rapp drilled a kill down the line. The Bulldogs narrowed the margin to 18-15 before a Mississippi State serving error ended the scoring streak. Mississippi State kept battling to come as close as one, 25-24, before a put-down by Nzenwa silenced the rally. Pierce brought the Wildcats to game point with an ace, before a kill by Rapp ended the 30-26 game-one victory.
The second game also was close throughout as the Bulldogs took an 11-8 advantage after breaking an 8-all tie with a 3-0 run. The Wildcats battled back to knot the score at 11 thanks to a service ace by Rumely that forced Mississippi State to call a timeout. Out of the break, the Bulldogs ran off five consecutive points behind the serving of Eva Kriegel.
A kill by Nzenwa ended UK’s scoring drought. With the Wildcats trailing 21-18, Nzenwa registered an emphatic put-down and Rumely followed with an ace.
An attack error by Mississippi State allowed Kentucky to even the score at 21-21. After two more ties, back-to-back errors by the Bulldogs put Kentucky in front 26-24 and forced another Mississippi State timeout. Out of the break, Britenriker and Rapp registered consecutive kills that extended UK’s lead to 28-24. The Wildcats closed out the 30-27 game-two win on a kill by freshman Sarah Mendoza.
Mississippi State streaked to a 13-4 lead to begin the third game behind eight service points from Megan Lukasek and three attack errors by the Wildcats. A kill by Nzenwa and an ace from Rumely ended the scoring streak by the Bulldogs with UK behind 13-5. Mississippi State kept rolling, extending its advantage to 18-9. A pair of MSU attack errors followed by kills from Nzenwa and Rapp brought the Wildcats as close as three, 23-20. The Bulldogs widened their margin back out to five, 28-23, after a service error by Rapp, but from there, the Wildcats scored six consecutive points. Bartek had two kills during that stretch to bring Kentucky within one, 29-28, and force a Mississippi State timeout. A block by the Bulldogs’ Jamie Joyner and Ashley Newsome finished out a 30-28 win for Mississippi State in game three.
Kentucky opened to a 7-3 advantage in the fourth game after back-to-back attack errors by the Bulldogs. Mississippi State rallied to come within one, 8-7, but a kill by Rumely and two consecutive MSU errors extended UK’s advantage to 11-7. Three consecutive Kentucky points, including kills from Bartek and Nzenwa, increased the UK lead to 16-10. The Cats kept their momentum, to pull ahead 25-19 after back-to-back put-downs by Nzenwa. Two kills by Rapp brought the Wildcats to match point at 29-21 and a Mississippi State attack error closed out the match with a 30-21 Kentucky win. The Wildcats limited the Bulldogs to .058 hitting in the final stanza.
Joyner tied a career-high with 21 kills to lead Mississippi State, which faces Tennessee on Sunday in Knoxville.
Kentucky returns to action Sunday when it plays host to Alabama. Opening serve in Memorial Coliseum is set for 1:30 p.m. Live statistics will be available at ukathletics.com with live video coverage available through Extreme Access.