Wildcats Drop Conference Opener to Alabama
Despite having a trio of players register double-digit kills, the Kentucky volleyball team fell to Alabama, 3-2, (30-24, 30-26, 26-30, 24-30, 15-8) Friday evening at Memorial Coliseum. UK, which out-hit the Crimson Tide .174-.138, had its seven-game win streak snapped to open Southeastern Conference play.
Junior middle blocker Amy Kaplan registered a career-high 19 kills to go with seven blocks and eight digs on .455 hitting. Outside Danielle Wallace turned in 19 put-downs in the match, while senior Sarah Spinner added 13 kills, 11 digs and five blocks. She also tied a season-high with two service aces in the match as well.
Kentucky (9-3, 0-1 SEC) opened game one on a 5-0 tear behind two kills from Spinner. Alabama struggled to find its offensive touch early as the Wildcats extended their lead to seven, 8-1, on a dazzling service ace by Spinner. They were able to take a 10-3 lead, when Kaplanís first attack of the game resulted in a right-side kill.
The Crimson Tide strung together three kills and two service aces to take a 16-13 advantage in the opening frame. Back-to-back attack errors by Spinner allowed the Tide to widen their lead to seven, 21-14 and forced UK coach Jona Braden to call a timeout to regroup. Wallace put together consecutive kills and Spinnerís stellar defensive plays late in the opening stanza allowed Kentucky to keep the game close and brought the Cats to within five, 29-24, but Alabamaís timely hitting allowed it to close out the first game, 30-24. Neither team was able to ignite its offense early in the match, but the Crimson Tide out-hit the Wildcats .159-.116 in the first period.
The two teams battled closely throughout the first 10 points of the second game, but a kill by Alabamaís Rachael Green, sandwiched in between two kills from the Tideís Kelley Potter, allowed it to take an early 8-6 advantage. The Cats battled back to tie the score at eight before Alabama went on 4-1 run to pull to a 12-9 lead. Though the Crimson Tide led by as much as eight in the second game, the Wildcats, powered by two kills from Wallace, pulled UK to within three, 21-18, and caused Alabama to burn a timeout. Crimson Tide hitter Erin Heffner found her rhythm out of the timeout with four kills to extend the Alabama lead to 27-22. Kaplan hammered down a crucial kill and she paired with Spinner to post a powerful block on the next play, but Alabama was able to win the second game 30-26 behind .263 hitting.
Alabama carried the momentum out of the intermission and pulled to an early 6-4 lead in the third game. A near Crimson Tide kill on the next play was stunted by a brilliant diving save from libero Jenni Casper and a kill by Wallace that silenced the vocal Alabama contingent. The Tide, however, widened their lead to three at 13-10 before UK narrowed the margin and took a 19-17 lead on a kill by Kaplan. Bama was forced to use another timeout, but the Tide responded when Kory Tull found her groove with two successive kills out of the timeout to even the score at 19. Kaplan again responded with a kill to cap off a 4-0 UK run which gave the Cats a 23-19 lead. She and Leigh Marcum teamed up on the next two plays to block the Alabama attack and bring the crowd to its feet. With UK leading 29-24, the Tide staved off two Kentucky attempts at game point, but behind the rhythmic cheering of the home crowd, the Cats won the third game, 30-26, to extend the match.
The Wildcats thrived on the momentum of the third game as they entered the fourth stanza. Kentucky broke out to an 8-2 lead capped off by back-to-back kills by Spinner, which forced UA to call another timeout. The Tide rallied and tied the game at eight, but Kaplan strung together consecutive kills and a service ace for the Cats to bring them to an 18-13 lead. Alabama would not be able to respond to UKís potent attacking in the fourth game and the Cats ended the game with a triumphant kill down the line by Spinner for the 30-24 victory, as Kentucky hit .170 in the fourth game, powered by Kaplanís five kills in the game.
In the fifth and deciding frame, Kentucky pushed out to a 3-1 lead behind a resounding kill by Spinner. Alabama clawed its way back to tie the score at seven, before a block by the Tideís Julie Farley and Potter gave them a 9-7 advantage. Out of a Kentucky timeout, the Tide went on a 6-1 run to win the five-game thriller with a 15-8 fifth frame victory. With the loss, Kentucky falls to 15-9 all-time in league openers and drops to 15-8 all-time against the Tide.
Kentucky returns to action on Sunday when it hosts Auburn (5-4, 0-1) at Memorial Coliseum. Opening serve is set for 2 p.m. Fans can follow all of the action with live stats on the official Web site of Kentucky Athletics at www.ukathletics.com.