Kentucky Upsets No. 18 Tennessee in Five
Sophomore outside hitter Ashlee Fisher notched a career-high 21 kills Wednesday night, Oct. 11, and Kentucky posted its first win over a ranked opponent since the 1993 season with a 3-2 victory (30-22, 19-30, 30-28, 14-30, 15-12) over No. 18 Tennessee in Memorial Coliseum.
“It was a roller coaster tonight and I’m proud of the way our players responded after a tough fourth game,” said second-year head coach Craig Skinner. “Tennessee is a very good team, but we never backed down at all and we came back and won a great fifth game. I’m excited for our players and they deserve all the credit for hanging in there and winning this match tonight.”
The Wildcats, who improve to 12-5 overall and 5-4 in Southeastern Conference play, toppled a ranked foe for the first time in 66 attempts dating back to Sept. 24, 1993, when UK swept Colorado, 3-0. The win marked the first time that an unranked Kentucky squad defeated a ranked opponent since 1991 and the first time UK had defeated a ranked SEC foe since the 1992 campaign.
Fisher led three players to tally double-figure kills in the match, as junior middle blocker Nicole Britenriker posted 19 kills and sophomore middle blocker Queen Nzenwa had 12 on .308 hitting. Nzenwa notched her second double-double of the season with a career-high 11 blocks. Britenriker had her team-leading seventh double-double with 15 digs to complement her 19 put-downs.
Senior libero Jenni Casper led the defensive effort for the 15th time this season with 20 digs, while freshman defensive specialist BriAnne Sauer tied her career high with 13 scoops. Freshman setter Sarah Rumely dished out a squad-best 58 assists to complement five service aces – one ace shy of her personal best.
Kentucky, which was out-blocked 21-12 and out-hit .201-.107, used character and perseverance to battle back from a 30-14 loss in game four to close out the match with a 15-12 game-five victory.
The teams battled closely to begin the fifth frame before the Lady Vols went ahead 7-5 on an attack error by Melissa Popp. The offense of Britenriker and the strong serving of senior Julie Gagnon then allowed the Cats to rally. Britenriker registered three straight kills – the last a resounding put-down on the right side to put UK ahead 8-7. A ball handling error on Tennessee sent the Cats in front 9-7 and forced a Lady Vol timeout.
Out of the break, UT knotted the score at 10-10. A kill by Fisher and an attack error by UT’s Chelsea Noble extended UK’s advantage to 12-10, but the Lady Vols again rallied to tie the score at 12. Fisher put the Wildcats up 13-12 with kill before she teamed with Nzenwa for a block to bring the Cats to match point. A resounding block by sophomore Tess Edwards and Nzenwa on the next play gave UK the win, sending the Wildcats into a feverish celebration on the court, much to the delight of a raucous crowd.
Kentucky broke out to an early 3-0 lead in the first game, but the Lady Vols battled back behind powerful blocking to tie the score at 4-4. After a blocking error against Tennessee put the Wildcats back ahead, they distanced themselves at 7-5 after an ace by Sauer and a sharp kill by Britenriker down the middle. Back-to-back aces by Rumely capped a 4-0 Kentucky run to put the Wildcats ahead 16-11 and force a Tennessee timeout.
Trailing 18-12, the Lady Vols went on a 3-0 run that brought them within three, 18-15, to cause Skinner to burn a timeout. UT continued to hang tough, but the Wildcats went ahead 22-19 on a kill off the block by Fisher. Another kill by Fisher and a block by Edwards, who finished the match with five blocks, and Nzenwa extended UK’s advantage to 25-21. The Wildcats closed the opening game on a 6-1 run to take the game, 30-22.
UK streaked to a 7-4 advantage to begin the second frame. Edwards posted a kill and then teamed with Nzenwa on a block, followed by a Tennessee error to give the Wildcats the early edge. The Lady Vols rallied to knot the score at 7-7 before going ahead at 8-7 on an attack error by senior outside hitter Popp. Trailing 17-11, Kentucky began to chip away at the Tennessee advantage with a kill by Fisher and an attack error by the Lady Vols to cut the Cats’ deficit to four, 17-13.
After two UT points, a service error against the Lady Vols and a powerful block by Edwards and Nzenwa brought UK to within 19-15. A Britenriker attack error gave UT a six-point, 22-16 advantage before a Heather Hausfeld kill off the block ended the scoring streak. The Lady Vols, however, distanced themselves at 25-17 and continued to the 30-19 second-game victory.
Tennessee opened game three on a 5-1 tear thanks to some timely blocking that forced Skinner to use an early timeout. Out of the break, Fisher and Popp posted kills to make it 6-3, but the Lady Vols opened back up to a 9-4 advantage. A block by UT’s Sarah Blum and Carol Cheade gave Tennesee a six-point, 11-5 lead. Tennessee extended its advantage back out to six, 15-9, before a put-down by Popp ended the scoring drought.
The Wildcats cut their deficit to three, 17-14, after a kill by Popp and two consecutive put-downs from Fisher on the outside that forced UT to burn a timeout. Trailing 19-15, Kentucky went on a 5-0 run that included three consecutive service aces by Rumely to go in front 20-19. After three ties, the Lady Vols went up 24-22 after a pair of attack errors by the Cats. With the Wildcats down 26-25, Britenriker registered a sharp kill on the right side and then Rumely and Nzenwa teamed for a block to put Kentucky back in front 27-26 leading into a Tennessee timeout. The Lady Vols narrowed the gap at 29-28, but a kill by Fisher off the block gave the Cats the 30-28 victory in the third frame.
The Lady Vols took an 8-3 advantage to begin the fourth game and extended their lead to 10-3 before a Popp kill stopped the streak. With the Wildcats trailing 16-7, Nzenwa and sophomore Erin Turner registered back-to-back kills to bring the Cats within seven, 16-9. However, Tennessee scored the next three points to move in front by 10, 19-9, and force a Kentucky timeout. The Lady Vols kept rolling to the 30-14 win. Errors proved costly for the Wildcats in the fourth stanza, as they hit -.140 compared to Tennessee’s .323.
Kentucky returns to action on Friday when it travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to face the Alabama Crimson Tide. Opening serve in The CAVE is set for 8 p.m. ET.