Wildcats Battle No. 10 Gators to Five
Kentucky fought valiantly with No. 10 Florida on Friday, Sept. 29, taking the perennial power to five games for the first time since 1988 before eventually falling to the Gators 3-2 (30-26, 17-30, 21-30, 37-35, 10-15) in Memorial Coliseum in front of 3,150 fans - the fifth-largest crowd in UK volleyball history. Freshman outside hitter Heather Hausfeld (Cincinnati, Ohio) turned in the finest match of her young career, posting a career-best 15 kills to complement five digs and three blocks to lead the Wildcats.
Hausfeld was one of four Kentucky (9-4, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) players to register double-digit kills with sophomore middle blocker Queen Nzenwa (Baltimore, Md.) registering a team-high 16 put-downs and tying a career-high with 10 blocks. Junior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker (Cincinnati, Ohio) notched her fourth consecutive double-double and sixth of the season with 15 kills and 12 digs to go along with six blocks. Senior outside hitter Melissa Popp (Indianapolis, Ind.) also tallied her first double-double of the year with 10 kills and 12 digs.
The Wildcats, who hit a season-low .100 for the match, used heart and perseverance to weather a rough hitting night and take the SEC leader to five frames. Freshman Sarah Rumely (New Palestine, Ind.) dished out 55 assists, posted nine digs and registered five blocks, while senior libero Jenni Casper (Louisville, Ky.) led the defensive effort with 21 digs. She was one of four players to notch double-figures in digs, including senior defensive specialist Julie Gagnon (Wheaton, Ill.) who posted a season-high 14 digs.
Both teams displayed impressive blocking performances with Florida (11-2, 4-1 SEC) and Kentucky each registering 18 blocks. The Gators out-hit the Cats .195-.100 for the match.
The Wildcats opened the first game on a 4-0 tear after back-to-back kills by Britenriker and Hausfeld followed by a Popp service ace. The Cats went ahead 8-3 on an ace by Casper to force an early Florida timeout. The Gators came within one, 12-11, on an attack error by Britenriker, but stopped the Florida scoring streak with a kill by Hausfeld.
The Gators used a kill by their Marcie Hampton and a service error by sophomore right side hitter Tess Edwards (Ottowa, Ontario), who finished with eight kills and a career-high eight blocks, to tie the score at 15. Popp and Rumely followed with consecutive kills to give the Cats a two-point cushion at 17-15. A put-down by Britenriker and back-to-back kills by Hausfeld on the outside extended UK’s advantage to 21-17. Two Florida errors moved the Wildcats ahead by six points, 26-18. A kill by Popp on the outside gave the Wildcats their first game over Florida since the 1998 season with a 30-26 victory.
Florida broke to an 8-0 advantage in the second game behind the powerful serving of Hampton and seven UK attack errors. Kentucky then used a 9-2 run to get back into the game at 10-9 after consecutive kills by Nzenwa and Hausfeld and a Florida ball-handling error. The Gators continued to pull away, extending their advantage out to 20-12 on a kill by Hampton before taking the second game 30-17 to send the teams into intermission tied at one game apiece.
In the third game, the Wildcats fell quickly behind 6-1 on three consecutive Kentucky attack errors. The Gators capitalized on three more UK attack errors to extend their advantage to 11-6. With the Wildcats trailing 20-11, Hausfeld posted a kill to stop the UK scoring drought. Florida, however, kept rolling and went ahead 26-18 after three straight kills by Amber McCray.
Kentucky came out strong to begin game four with the Wildcats breaking to a 6-3 advantage after a Florida attack error. The two teams battled closely for much of the game with seven ties before the Gators went ahead 25-23 after two consecutive UK attack errors that forced Skinner to burn a late timeout. The Wildcats used a kill by Popp and an attack error by UF’s Kelsey Bowers to come within one, 27-26, and force a Florida timeout. Out of the break, the Gators scored two consecutive points to reach what would have been match point at 29-26 before a the Wildcats staved off three Florida attempts at the match.
Britenriker redeemed herself for an attack error on the previous play with a pair of sharp kills to bring the Cats within one, 29-28. An attack by UF’s Kisya Killingsworth was stuffed by the Wildcats’ Britenriker and Hausfeld to knot the score at 29. The Gators twice went ahead, but Kentucky responded with the Cats tying the score at 32-32 on a kill by Edwards on the right side. With Kentucky trailing 35-34, Popp registered a kill to tie the score before Britenriker’s put-down sent the Wildcats ahead 36-35. A kill by Popp gave UK the 37-35 win, much to the delight of a screeching, electrified crowd.
In the fifth game, the Wildcats fell behind 5-3 before back-to-back Florida attack errors stopped the scoring streak. Two kills by Hampton and a Kentucky attack error put the Gators ahead 8-4 as the teams switched sides of the floor. Out of a Kentucky timeout, Hausfeld and Nzenwa registered kills to bring the Wildcats within two, 8-6. The Cats had seemingly registered another kill on the next play, but were forced to re-play the point. Florida scored two consecutive to go ahead 10-6 and force a UK timeout. The Gators took command out of the break, winning 15-10.
“We did some really great things tonight but it wasn’t quite enough,” said head coach Craig Skinner. “I’m proud of the way our kids competed and stayed together. They fought to the end but we need to understand we can win matches like this and we need to commit to that.”
Kentucky returns to action Sunday, Oct. 1, when it travels to Auburn, Ala., to face the Auburn Tigers. Opening serve is set for 1:30 p.m.