Wildcats Sweep Gamecocks, 3-0
Kentucky outside hitters Ashlee Fisher (West Bend, Wis.) and Melissa Popp (Indianapolis, Ind.) combined for 28 kills Sunday, Oct. 8, and the Wildcats used a powerful blocking attack in a 3-0 (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) win over South Carolina in Memorial Coliseum.
The Wildcats improve to 11-5 on the year and 4-4 in Southeastern Conference play with their fifth consecutive victory over the Gamecocks. South Carolina drops to 10-9 overall and 3-5 in league action.
Sophomore right side hitter Tess Edwards (Ottowa, Ontario) registered a team-high seven blocks, one rejection shy of her career-high as the Wildcats out-blocked the Gamecocks 9-5. Sophomore Queen Nzenwa (Baltimore, Md.) also charted five blocks. Kentucky has posted eight or more team blocks in four of its last five games.
Senior defensive specialist Jenni Casper (Louisville, Ky.) had a team-high 22 digs, while junior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker (Cincinnati, Ohio) had 13 digs to complement nine kills on a team-best .467 hitting percentage and three blocks. Popp and Fisher each had a squad-best 14 kills, while Popp added six digs. Freshman setter Sarah Rumely (New Palestine, Ind.) dished out 39 assists to complement five digs.
“I felt like our defense was outstanding tonight and we played really well from a blocking and defensive standpoint,” said UK head coach Craig Skinner. “Jenni Casper really stepped up tonight and we were able to neutralize one of the best attackers in the SEC in Shonda Cole. This was a total team effort and probably our most consistent match in terms of focus, effort and a commitment to the game plan.”
The two teams battled evenly to begin the opening game before the Wildcats broke a 7-7 tie with a sharp kill on the angle by Britenriker that began a 5-0 run for Kentucky. The Cats extended their advantage to 15-9 when Nzenwa soared above the net to kill a free ball. UK kept rolling as back-to-back put-downs by Fisher and Popp on the outside gave the Cats a five-point lead at 17-12. Two consecutive kills from Britenriker extended UK’s advantage to 21-15 and forced South Carolina to burn its second timeout of the game.
Back-to-back kills by the Gamecocks and a blocking error against the Wildcats brought USC to within four, 22-18, before a kill by Fisher on the outside ended UK’s scoring drought. An attack error by Casper allowed the Gamecocks to come as close as two, 23-21, and force Skinner to burn a timeout. Out of the break, Fisher and Popp each registered kills to spark a 3-0 run by the Cats that distanced them at 26-21. A put-down by Popp on the outside gave the Wildcats a 28-25 advantage and they rolled to the 30-27 victory in the opening frame.
Kentucky took an early 4-2 lead to begin the second game after a powerful kill by Nzenwa down the middle. The Gamecocks hung close, but the Wildcats were able to extend their advantage out to three, 7-4, after consecutive kills by Edwards and Popp. A crafty kill by Fisher on the outside that crept over the net put UK ahead 9-6 before an illegal rotation called against South Carolina extended the Cats’ advantage to four, 10-6. From there, the Gamecocks used a 5-1 run to tie the score at 11-11. After three more ties, a kill by Popp and an attack error against South Carolina allowed Kentucky to go in front 17-15. A pair of aces by the Gamecocks’ Alexcis Thomson put South Carolina back ahead 18-17.
A UK kill coupled with a ball-handling error against the Gamecocks let the Wildcats to re-take the lead at 19-18. Popp registered an ace on the ensuing play to give Kentucky a two-point cushion, 20-18. South Carolina tied the score at 22-22 before a resounding kill by Fisher put UK back in front. A put-down by Popp on the next play forced a South Carolina timeout with the Wildcats ahead 24-22. Kills by Edwards on two of the next three plays extended UK’s advantage to 26-23. Several Kentucky miscues brought the Gamecocks as close as 28-27, but the Wildcats took a 30-27 victory.
Kentucky broke to an early 4-3 advantage in game three after a resounding block by Edwards and Nzenwa on the right side. A kill by Britenriker off the block extended UK’s lead to 7-5, but the Gamecocks continued to hang tough, tying the score at 7-7. A ball handling error against the Wildcats put the Gamecocks in front for the first time at 8-7 before the Cats again knotted the score at 8-8. An ace by Popp and a kill from Fisher put UK ahead 11-8 and forced a USC timeout.
Kentucky went ahead 13-10 on a kill by Rumely, but committed back-to-back errors to let the Gamecocks back in the game at 13-12. Fisher registered a block solo then soared above the net to kill a free ball, extending UK’s advantage to four,16-12. South Carolina continued to rally, tying the score at 18-18 on an attack error by Britenriker. An attack error and another illegal rotation call against the Gamecocks allowed the Wildcats to go back up by three, 21-18. After four more ties, the Cats capitalized on a service error and a kill by Popp to go up 26-24 and cruise to the 30-27 victory.
Kentucky returns to action Wednesday when it hosts border rival Tennessee. Opening serve in Memorial Coliseum is set for 7 p.m.