Wildcats Silence Bulldogs, 3-0
Senior Kentucky outside hitter Melissa Popp registered a team-high 15 kills on a season-best .406 hitting percentage Friday night, Oct. 6, and the Wildcat offense came alive in a 3-0 (30-20, 30-28, 30-20) sweep of Southeastern Conference rival Georgia in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats, who snap a three-game losing streak with the win, improve to 10-5 overall and 3-4 in SEC play, while the Bulldogs drop to 4-13 on the year and 0-7 in league action.
Popp was one of three Kentucky players to register double-figure kills as sophomore outside hitter Ashlee Fisher and sophomore middle blocker Queen Nzenwa added 13 and 10 kills, respectively. As a team, the Wildcats hit .346 – their best mark since a .402 hitting efficiency against Villanova on Sept. 9.
Junior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker added seven kills to complement a squad-best 15 digs and five blocks. Senior libero Jenni Casper added 13 digs, while freshman defensive specialist BriAnne Sauer recorded 11 scoops. Freshman setter Sarah Rumely dished out a squad-best 35 assists to complement seven kills on a team-high .600 hitting percentage.
Kentucky opened game one on a 6-4 run that was capped off by a sharp kill from Britenriker on the right side. The Bulldogs, however, hung tough, not allowing the Wildcats to take more than a two-point lead before Georgia tied the score at 9-9. After two more ties, a crafty kill by Rumely on second contact and an ace by Popp put the Wildcats back in front 13-11. Kentucky extended its advantage to 17-12 after Nzenwa and Rumely both soared above the net to post impressive kills on back-to-back plays and force a Georgia timeout.
The Wildcats kept rolling into another timeout by the Bulldogs, this time holding a 21-14 advantage after a kill by Nzenwa. UGA rallied with two consecutive kills to bring them as close as 22-17 before a service error by the Bulldogs ended their rally. A put-down by Popp and a Georgia attack error put UK ahead 25-18 and the Cats closed out the opening frame with a 30-20 victory. The Wildcats hit an impressive .516 in the opening frame, as only one UK attacker hit less than .500 in the stanza.
The two teams battled evenly to open game two before back-to-back kills by Popp and a pair of violations called on Georgia gave UK a 7-4 advantage. The Bulldogs staged a 4-1 rally to come within one, 10-9, after a Kentucky blocking error. Back-to-back attack errors by Rumely and senior Julie Gagnon put Georgia ahead 11-10. After four more ties, the Bulldogs took the lead at 16-14 after a block solo by Josefine Ehmke and an illegal contact call against the Wildcats. Out of a Kentucky timeout, the Cats scored three of the next four points, including a pair of kills by Popp, to tie the score at 17-all.
From there, the Bulldogs scored four consecutive points that forced UK’s Craig Skinner to burn another timeout. Kentucky began to rally, with two kills by Britenriker and a block by Britenriker and Popp to bring UK within one at 22-21. Out of the break, an ace by Popp tied the score at 22. After four more ties, a sharp kill by Popp on the angle put UK ahead 27-26, but the Bulldogs were able to knot the score again at 27. Consecutive put-downs by Popp and Fisher closed out a 30-28 game-two victory for the Wildcats. The Cats continued their hot hitting with a .226 clip in the second set.
After a close score early in the third game, the Wildcats scored three straight points to go ahead 7-4 on a Georgia attack error. The Bulldogs came within one, 7-6, but kills by Popp on two of the next three plays distanced UK at 9-7. Georgia hung close and tied the score at 12-12 on back-to-back kills by UGA’s Maria Taylor. Trailing 13-12, the Bulldogs scored four consecutive points to go ahead 16-13 and force Skinner to burn a timeout.
A kill by Rumely and an error on the Bulldogs allowed the Cats to pull even at 17-17. A resounding block by Britenriker and Rumely put Kentucky back ahead at 18-17 heading into a Georgia timeout. An ace by Popp put UK up 19-17 and the Wildcats continued to extend their lead. UK went on top 24-19 after a pair of kills by sophomore Erin Turner on the right side. Turner’s strong serving late in the match that included four consecutive service points allowed Kentucky to take the third frame 30-20.
“Any time you can win 3-0 in the SEC, it’s a big win and this was a good 3-0 win for us tonight,” said Skinner. “It was good to see Ashlee (Fisher), Queen (Nzenwa) and Melissa (Popp) come through such a good job of producing on offense tonight. Any time we can have three different players contributing, we’re going to be tough to stop offensively.”
Kentucky returns to action Sunday, Oct. 8, when it hosts South Carolina in Memorial Coliseum. Opening serve is set for 1:30 p.m. ET and the game will be televised by CW Lexington and can be seen locally on Insight Cable channel 5.