Kentucky Volleyball Shocks Alabama, 3-1
Three Kentucky players registered double-digit kills Sunday, led by senior Amy Kaplan’s 16, as the Wildcats broke a 13-match Alabama win streak with a 3-1 (30-21, 30-26, 26-30, 30-28) Southeastern Conference victory in Memorial Coliseum.
The victory gave Kentucky (8-4, 1-1 SEC) its first win over Alabama since Oct. 1, 1999, snapping a seven-match Tide series streak. It also gave UK its first SEC win of the season after falling to Auburn, 3-0, in the league opener Friday.
“The difference today was our composure,” UK Coach Craig Skinner said. “We played with a constant focus and never let up, and I think that was huge. The win today was really less important than the intrinsic value of being able to overcome obstacles during the match.”
UK’s three seniors were the driving force behind the victory. Kaplan’s 16 kills came on .469 hitting with four blocks to lead the Wildcats. Outside hitter Danielle Wallace tallied 14 kills, while setter Leigh Marcum had six kills on .375 hitting, 53 assists, eight digs and six blocks. Four of Marcum’s blocks, including all three solo stops, came in the decisive fourth game.
Also stepping up for Kentucky was freshman middle blocker Queen Nzenwa, who added 10 kills and a team-high six blocks. Libero Jenni Casper led the defensive effort with a season-high 25 digs, one of four Wildcats to tally double-figure digs. Freshman Alisa Pierce had a season-best 12 digs, while Julie Gagnon and Melissa Popp added 11 and 13, respectively.
Kentucky out-hit Alabama (13-2, 1-1) .238-.164 in the match and out-blocked the Crimson Tide 13.5-8 with ferocious intensity at the net late in the match.
“This win means a lot to us in terms of our confidence,” Kaplan said. “This is the first time that we’ve beaten Alabama since I’ve been here. It has been our goal to keep our composure in practice and in the matches, and we did that today.”
The Wildcats broke to an 8-4 advantage in the opening game capped off by a kill from Nzenwa. Alabama rolled off four consecutive points to even the score at eight but the Cats regrouped to pull ahead 12-9 on a Crimson Tide error. A crafty kill by Marcum extended UK’s advantage to 18-15 and the Wildcats continued rolling to a 25-18 lead on a resounding block by Nzenwa and Popp. The Cats took the opening game 30-21 behind .318 hitting.
In a tightly-contested second game, Alabama took an early 5-3 lead before Kentucky tied the score at six on a kill by Ashlee Fisher. After five more ties, the Cats took their first lead of the game at 12-11 as Kaplan slammed down a kill to bring the crowd to its feet.
The Tide retook the lead at 14-13 on an attack error by Popp before Kentucky scored the next two points capped off by a powerful block by Marcum and Nzenwa. The Cats continued adding to their lead to take an 18-15 advantage on a soft-touch kill from Nzenwa. The Tide came within four points several times late in game two, but Kentucky was able to close out the game with a 30-25 victory.
In the third game, Kentucky took an early 7-3 lead on an attack error by Alabama’s Bridget Fuentez. The Crimson Tide, however, kept battling to come within one, 9-8. A kill by Wallace sandwiched between two Alabama errors pushed the Cats’ lead back out to three at 12-9. The Tide continued to whittle away at the UK advantage and Alabama tied the score at 18 on a put-down by Crystal Hudson. After falling behind 29-24, Kentucky continued to fight, staving off a Crimson Tide attempt at game point, but Alabama closed out the game with a 30-26 win.
Kentucky quickly fell behind in the fourth game 6-4, but the Wildcats regrouped to tie the score at six. After two more ties, the Wildcats took a 12-11 advantage when Kaplan smoked a kill through the middle. The score was tied twice more before a put-down by Popp and an attack error by the Crimson Tide gave the Cats a 16-14 advantage. Back-to-back errors by the Cats brought Alabama even before the Crimson Tide pulled ahead by five, 23-17, on a miscue by Popp.
After a kill by Nzenwa, an Alabama attack error brought the Cats to within four, 24-20. Back-to-back Tide blunders and an ace by Casper put Kentucky back in the match trailing by two, 26-24, and forced UA Coach Judy Green to burn a late timeout. Out of the timeout, Wallace posted a kill before four consecutive Kentucky blocks, including two solo shots in a row from Marcum, brought the Wildcats to match point. After a service ace by the Crimson Tide’s Sarah Snider, Kaplan drilled a kill down the middle to give the Cats the 30-28 victory and the match.
Kentucky faces its first league road action when it travels to Athens, Ga., to meet the Georgia Bulldogs on Friday, Sept. 30. Opening serve is set for 7 p.m. ET and live stats will be available at ukathletics.com.