Wildcats Earn First SEC Win in Hard-Fought Battle at South Carolina
The Kentucky volleyball team battled hard and came out with a 3-2 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks on Friday Oct. 1 in Columbia, S.C. It marked the first win for the Wildcats over South Carolina since 1999 and the first victory in Columbia since the 1993 season and handed UK its first Southeastern Conference win of the season.
Kentucky (10-4, 1-2 SEC) received an amazing performance from sophomore libero Jenni Casper, who tallied 30 digs in the victory, three shy of her career best, and a season-high five assists. Danielle Wallace turned in another valuable performance for the Cats with 20 kills on .292 hitting with nine digs and three blocks. Sophomore Melissa Popp matched her career high with 16 digs in the win, while Amy Kaplan led an uncharacteristically weak blocking effort with five. Freshman setter Ki Eveland registered 43 assists and a career-best nine digs in the victory. The Wildcats hit .171 for the match, to South Carolinaís .218 and had just six total blocks to USCís 15.
The Wildcats got off to a strong start with a 3-1 lead in the first game, anchored by back-to-back kills for Wallace. The Gamecocks used strong hitting to even the score at seven, but Kentucky continued to capitalize on unforced errors, stretching back out to a 16-11 lead. USC rebounded quickly and took the next five points to even the score at 16 and force a Kentucky timeout. Two additional ties followed the break before UK earned a three-point lead at 22-19, sending Carolina to the bench.
Kentucky continued to play well, regaining a five-point lead on a kill by Sarah Spinner, but a late USC run, which cut the lead to two at 27-25, forced another UK timeout. The Gamecocks threatened twice more in the game, but kills by Wallace on two of the final three rallies sealed the win for the Cats, 30-28.
South Carolina dominated the start of the second game, not allowing a Wildcat point for four straight rallies until Wallace sent one straight down to put UK on the board. USC continued to control play, however, easing out to a 9-5 lead, which forced UK coach Jona Braden to burn a timeout. Unforced errors by Carolina, coupled with a solo block for Wallace and an ace by Casper, put the Wildcats down only two, 16-14.
After a Gamecock timeout, Kentucky quickly tied the score at 17, but another USC run would put UK behind 23-19. A hitting error by Carolina would put the Wildcats within two at 25-, 23, but the Gamecocks would close out the game on a 5-1 run for the 30-24 victory to even the match score at one game apiece.
Kentucky started game three strong, pushing out to an 11-7 lead after several unforced errors by South Carolina. A Gamecock timeout followed, but the Cats continued to control the pace through much of the game until unforced errors popped up on the Kentucky side of the net, allowing USC to take the lead at 19-18.
A Wildcat timeout didnít prove much help as UK returned to the court and committed back-to-back errors, making the score 21-18 in favor of the home team. The Cats couldnít seem to right the ship from there, allowing Carolina to find the court time after time. With the Gamecocks leading 25-20, Braden called another timeout to calm her squad. South Carolina seemed poised to run away with the game, but smart plays by UK allowed the Cats to stay around, forcing a USC timeout at 28-24. An ace by Casper put the score at 28-25, but she followed with a serving error, putting Carolina on game point. The Gamecocks sent an ace over the net to seal the 30-25 victory.
The fourth game proved to be a battle from the start, with four early ties. Kentucky fell behind 12-10, but battled to tie the score at 12. UK took its first lead at 15-14 on a kill by Kaplan, and controlled the tempo from there. Wallace kept Kentuckyís distance with several key kills throughout the game. With UK up 24-20, USC coach Kim Hudson took a timeout to regroup, and the Gamecocks found a quick point.
The teams battled back and forth, but when South Carolina threatened at 28-26, UK took a trip to the bench. The Cats came out of the timeout and took a quick point to go on game point, but Carolina rebounded with back-to-back points to cut the advantage to one at 29-28. Braden wanted another timeout, but didnít call it in time. Popp, however, had things under control and sealed the win with a kill down the left side.
Finding itself in its third five-game match in two weeks, Kentucky didnít back down after South Carolina took an early 3-1 lead. The Wildcats used solid blocking and a kill from Wallace to even the score at three. A service error later in the game would give the Gamecocks a 6-4 lead.
Strong offensive hits by USC would allow them to keep that two-point lead for a stretch, but a block assist by Kristen Cunningham and Eveland and a kill by Wallace evened the score at 8-8. Kentucky took back-to-back points out of a timeout to go up 10-8, but Carolina responded with two consecutive points to even the score at 10.
Following a Kentucky timeout, the Gamecocks continued to claw, taking the next two rallies to force another Wildcat trip to the bench. A kill by Spinner and a hitting error from USC allowed UK to tie the score at 12 and an ace from Spinner put the Cats up 13-12. Carolina took two straight points to go on match point at 14-13, but the Gamecocks followed with a service error, keeping UKís hopes alive.
A strong block from Wallace and Kaplan put the Cats on match point at 15-14 and Wallace sealed the victory with a kill that landed in the middle of a heap of South Carolina players.
Kentucky returns to action on Sunday, Oct. 3 when they visit the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee is enjoying its best start since the 1973 season with a 13-1 record. The Lady Vols are ranked 20th in this weekís USA Today/CSTV Coachesí Top 25. Game time is set for 2 p.m. at Stokely Athletics Center in Knoxville.