Cats Sweep Arkansas for Fourth Straight Win
Junior Kentucky middle blocker Queen Nzenwa recorded 17 kills on .654 hitting with four blocks Wednesday night to lead the Wildcats to a 3-0 (30-22, 30-21, 30-23) sweep of Arkansas in Memorial Coliseum.
Kentucky improves to 14-3 overall and 5-1 in Southeastern Conference play. Arkansas drops to 6-9, 0-5 in the league. The Cats’ 5-1 start in conference play marks its best six-match league start since 1996 and UK improves to 20-3 (.869) at home over the past two seasons.
Nzenwa was one of three Kentucky players with double figure kills, as right-side hitter Lauren Rapp, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week, had 12 put downs on .400 hitting. It marked the fourth time in five matches that the rookie has recorded double-digit kills. Senior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker had 10 kills, 11 digs and eight blocks for her team-best 11th double-double of the season.
The Wildcats out-blocked Arkansas 12.5 to nine in the match, marking the sixth time in the last seven matches and the 12th time this season that Kentucky has recorded double-digit team blocks.
“I was really pleased that we were able to be composed and compete for three games to win 3-0,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “Our blocking really made a difference as the match went along. It altered the way Arkansas was able to perform.”
Junior libero Alisa Pierce headed the defensive effort with 12 digs, while sophomore setter Sarah Rumely dished out 46 assists, recorded seven digs and posted five blocks.
Kentucky opened to a 7-5 advantage in the opening game after a kill and an ace each by Rapp helped break a 4-all tie. The Wildcats extended their advantage to 10-7 after a crafty put-down by Rumely on second contact before Arkansas inched within two, 11-9. Britenriker posted a kill and then teamed with freshman Blaire Hiler for a block on the ensuing play to put the Cats ahead by four, 13-9.
The Lady ‘Backs hung around in the first game, coming within one, 16-15. From there, Nzenwa drilled a kill down the middle and Rapp followed with a put-down of her own to put the Wildcats ahead 18-15. Leading 20-18, Kentucky ran off six consecutive points to go in front 26-18 behind the powerful serving of Rapp, who had two aces and five service points during that stretch. The Wildcats closed out the 30-22 game-one victory, despite hitting just .167 in the opening frame.
The two teams battled evenly to begin game two with three early ties before the Lady ‘Backs ran off three consecutive points, two coming on attack errors by the Wildcats that forced Skinner to burn an early timeout down 9-7. After a kill by Britenriker ended Arkansas’ scoring spree, the Lady ‘Backs had a pair of points to go back up 11-8. From there, the Wildcats used a 5-0 run to go up 13-11 after an ace by Rumely and a kill by freshman Brooke Bartek.
Arkansas knotted the score at 13 before Nzenwa posted a kill and Pierce tallied three service points to put the Cats ahead 17-13. Britenriker and Rumely posted a powerful block that brought the crowd to its feet and extended UK’s lead to 21-14. Trailing 27-18, Arkansas began to rally to come within seven, 28-21, but Kentucky ended the 30-22 game-two win.
The Lady ‘Backs took a 5-2 advantage to begin the third game before the Wildcats rallied back to tie the score at 6-6, as a kill by Rapp capped off the 4-1 run. Arkansas went in front 12-10 after a kill by Heather Royal, but the Wildcats scored five consecutive points to reclaim the lead at 14-12 after a put-down by Rumely. Kentucky kept rolling and took a 20-15 advantage on a kill by Bartek. Arkansas inched within three, 24-21 after a kill by Christina Lawrence, but the Wildcats had no trouble the rest of the way in a 30-23 win. UK hit a commanding .452 in the final frame.
Kentucky returns to action Friday, Oct. 5, when it travels to Gainesville, Fla., to take on the No. 6 Florida Gators. Opening serve is set for 7 p.m. EDT in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center and live statistics will be available at ukathletics.com.