Kentucky Falls to Auburn to Drop to 9-4
The Kentucky volleyball team hit a season-best .327 but were upset by the visiting Auburn Tigers, 3-1 (30-27, 30-28, 27-30, 30-25), Sunday afternoon at Memorial Coliseum. Senior Sarah Spinner had a career performance with 21 kills on .633 hitting, a personal best percentage for the four-year starter. The Auburn victory marked its first Southeastern Conference road win since the 2000 season. This marks the third consecutive season that the Cats have opened league play with an 0-2 record.
Spinner was one of four Wildcats to register double-digit kills in the match for Kentucky (9-4, 0-2 SEC). Amy Kaplan and Alex Montefalco each tallied 13 and Melissa Popp notched a season-high with 11 putdowns in the match. Sophomore Jenni Casper led the Cats defensively, tying a season-high with 21 digs.
Wildcats coach Jona Braden varied her starting lineup looking for renewed energy to begin the match, which she found from outside hitter Melissa Popp and freshman setter Ki Eveland, who played as part of a two-setter rotation. Though Kentucky struggled defensively early in the match, the Catsí offense thrived in the first game. Rotating Eveland and junior Leigh Marcum to run the offense, the UK was able to break out of an early 8-8 tie when Eveland found Kaplan near the net for a kill. Kaplan then teamed up with Popp to post a powerful block and give the Wildcats a 12-11 advantage.
The Tigers (6-4, 1-1) rallied to take a 22-21 lead on a service ace by Jennifer Amobi, but out of a timeout, UK took a 27-26 lead when Spinner made an awkward pass look easy nailing Marcumís set for the kill. A service error by Marcum and an ace by Auburnís Ashlee Johns gave the Tigers a 28-27 lead late in the opening game. Johns followed with a nearly identical serve two plays later, as her shallow serve crawled across the net tape and bounced in for the ace to give Auburn a 30-27 game-one victory. Popp broke her season-high with four kills in the first game, as Kentucky outhit the Tigers .333-.286 in the opening frame.
The two teams battled evenly throughout the beginning of game two, but Kentucky took a 9-8 lead when Marcum found Montefalco for the kill and Kaplan followed with a putdown. Auburn used the strength of its serving game to pull to a 16-12 advantage before a triumphant kill by Spinner ended the scoring drought for the Wildcats. UK fought back to tie the score and the Cats took a 21-20 lead on a kill by Popp on the opposite side. The Tigers again regained the lead at 26- but a kill by Wallace and a double-hit violation called on the Tigers brought the score even at 26, forcing a timeout for Auburn. The Tigers, however, got three critical kills down the stretch to win the second game, 30-28.
Kentucky began the third game strong and broke out to an early 9-6 lead when Eveland found Spinner near the net for a resounding kill that ignited the home crowd. The Cats extended their lead to 13-9 after Cunningham drilled one down the middle and then Eveland set Julie Gagnon for the teamís second consecutive kill. Auburn pulled to within two, 18-16, forcing Braden to regroup her team. But the Wildcats responded as Popp hammered a shot on the outside and UK closed out the game with a kill down the middle by Kristen Cunningham for the 30-27 victory. Kentucky hit .400 in the third game behind eight kills from Spinner and five by Kaplan.
Unforced errors plagued the Cats in the fourth game, allowing the Tigers to stake themselves to an 8-3 advantage. Auburn extended its lead to nine, 18-9, when Amobi found the floor for a kill. Kentucky narrowed the Tigers lead to six, 23-17, when Spinner rang up a back row kill and Montefalco followed with a kill of her own. The Wildcats pulled to within four when Cunningham posted a block solo and the Tigersí Amobi drilled an errant attack. UK was not able to overcome the early game-four deficit as they fall 30-25 on back-to-back kills by Auburnís Johns.
Kentucky returns to action on Friday, Oct. 1, when it travels to Columbia, S.C., to face South Carolina. Opening serve is set for 7 p.m. The Cats are 1-5 in conference road openers under Braden. Fans can follow all of the action with live stats on the official Web site of Kentucky Athletics at www.ukathletics.com.